Hyndburn parkrun

With Bolton parkrun being iced off, I decided to make the 40 minute drive over to Hyndburn parkrun at Clayton-le-Moors.  The event takes place at Wilson Playing Fields. Although to be honest, on a cold, damp, dark winter morning ‘playing’ was far from my mind as I pulled onto the carpark.  Other runners were just about visible from behind steamed up windscreens, with only the odd one or two dedicated enough to venture out into the rain.  And then, as these things do, it suddenly stopped.  It was time for a quick change of shoes before jogging to warm up and find the start line.

Despite missing the first timers briefing, I was easily able to find where to go.  A path around edge of the field led to the familiar signs and high-vis that marks the all important start and finish.  A warm welcome by the run director and we were off.

Hyndburn parkrun. Muddy. Fun.

The first part of the course is uphill on some very solid trails.  Despite the heavy rain the running surface was great.  Wide enough for the runners who stormed ahead and substantial enough to get a good grip.  My left hamstring immediately started to complain of stiffness, but if I’ve learned anything over the past few weeks it is to relax more as this seems to help it to ease off. A sharp right at the top of the hill and the course follows some woodland paths along what I assume is the boundary of the park.  With houses visible on the left and the woodlands on the right the path dips and rises through the trees until it eventually reaches a turnaround point.  This is located off the paths.  The course winds through some off road stuff, that with the winter weather, had become seriously muddy.  I chose to cling to the outside edge of this in an attempt to stay upright in my road shoes and to avoid aggravating my hamstring and hip.  The turnaround being successfully negotiated, it was back on to the path and back to the start line.  Ample signs and volunteers requested that we all keep to the left so that runners don’t impede those coming in the opposite direction.  It’s a system that works really well.  The start line passed soon enough and then it was back out to complete lap two of this two lap course.

The end seemed to arrive quickly enough in 23:07.  It felt like a solid effort.  Not too hard, but not an easy run. I’m not going to dwell too much on the fact that it was nearly five minutes slower than my PB.  Things are what they are. This gives me a good indication of where I am at at this point in time.  There are 99 days left until the Manchester Marathon, and with the Christmas celebrations behind us, it’s time to get focused on this as my main goal for the first third of the year.

On the way home I took a slight diversion and drove past what used to be Darwen Moorland High School.  The site has now been completely demolished with just the odd pathway, tree or post signalling where the building used to be.


I spent six years of my life teaching English there before the school became an academy and subsequently moved to a new site in the centre of Darwen.  Some of my former colleagues have died.  Some have stayed in Darwen.  Some, like me, have moved on.  But, this morning, sweaty and muddy from an enjoyable parkrun, I thought of them all for a moment before heading for home and the promise of a new year.




A work in progress

I wrote the following in September 2002.  I was new in post as Second in English at Darwen Moorland High School (which closed in August of 2008).  I was a participant in a project that was coordinated by the Excellence in Cities initiative.  The writing was an attempt to reflect on learning, teaching, and progress in a school that, twelve months later, would be placed into Special Measures by Ofsted. 

“Yeah, it works. The plug’s a bit funny though. You might need to push it into the socket really hard.”

And with that my colleague leaves, heel-clicking his way down the ‘O Block’ corridor while happily singing a line from ‘Home On The Range’.

I look up hoping to see twenty nine faces.  Instead what meets me is an assortment of youngsters, most of whom are looking anywhere but at the front of the room; all I can see are the sides of their heads.  They look like they would rather be anywhere else but in my GCSE English class.  They aren’t misbehaving…yet.  They do look decidedly disinterested in what I am about to impart. Some chew gum; some attempt an impromptu experiment to test the strength of chair legs; some look timid, shy, embarrassed to be here; and others look like most teenagers I’ve worked with previously: a bewildering mixture of confidence, timidity, nervousness, arrogance, wit, and intelligence.

I push the plug in to the socket as hard as I can.

The TV screen is tiny. It is one of those TV/VHS combos and it represents the extent of the technology that I have to work with; oh, I also have a black marker pen.  Other than that it is going to be relationships, relationships and relationships that will get me to a position where I can teach well enough for the students to complete the five pieces of missing coursework.  At least I think that it is five.  No-one really seems to know exactly what they have completed.

I’ve devised a piece of media coursework that compares two film texts.  More specifically it aims to compare the  CGI violence in some scenes from Gladiator with the slapstick violence in There’s Something About Mary.  I think that the choice of material, alongside the focus for the assessment, will generate some interest, and by using that as a starting point I can build some momentum with a group that the Headteacher describes as ‘challenging’.  It’s little wonder.  They have had a succession of supply teachers throughout Year Ten, including one who liked to play guitar to them.  What they haven’t had is the structured opportunity to complete any of their coursework.  Now, with their final year underway, they know that they are behind.

I press play.

Someone shouts, “It’s crap, this.”

I press pause.

Problem.  The comment is loud and aimed in my direction.  I have no idea who said it though.  It is to be my first test.  But, before I can do anything about it it happens again, only this time it is accompanied by laughter.

“It’s crap, this.”

Now I’ve only been teaching for two years.  I don’t have the experience to defuse this situation with a group that I don’t know.  I do however have my marker pen. So I decide to write it out on the whiteboard.  Large, thick letters.


Not a sound; no-one laughs when I repeat it clearly.  I can sense the room shift slightly.  Chairs are being lowered.  Voices are hushed.  I have their attention.  It can be uncomfortable when 29 pairs of eyes stare in your direction; for a teacher it is a gift.  I take full advantage.

“What’s the problem with this statement?  Why would we not write this about the films in our coursework?” I ask.  It’s a risky question, but at this point in time it is all that I have.

A lone voice, “It’s not good English.”

“Great.  What would be a better way of phrasing this?”  I tap at the board paying particular emphasis to the very word that has unexpectedly initiated the discussion.

Some hands.  Great.  Some shouting out too; but I can live with that for now.  At least I can see their faces.

“Why don’t we write down some better ways of saying this.”

Then another voice, “But what if I like the films?” and, “We’ve not even seen the films yet.”

And so it starts.  We look at the clips; we read lines of dialogue that I’ve typed up.  Over the next few weeks they start to trust me enough to enable them show me their efforts. They are raw.  They know about films, they understand the violence, but they don’t have the language to be able to write effectively about them.  So I model phrases relentlessly.  My conversations with them are peppered with the key words that I’d like them to use eventually in their own responses.  Perhaps most importantly, I explain that what they do now, as Year 11 students, will have an impact on their final grades.  This is the purpose of coursework, I explain: you can make progress now that we can measure, and this will contribute towards your final grade.  The thoughts that you have now, the very thoughts that you write down, can help you to write pieces of work that will have an impact on your final grades.

I repeat my mantra, “Together, you can make progress.”

They say that they are enjoying the work.  I ignore them because it is still the honeymoon period where classes will often flatter you in the hope of getting you to ease off the pace later on in the year.  But at heart I know that they are enjoying it because they are starting to ask about grades.  This is a tangible benefit of coursework: you can structure it to contribute towards a purposeful working environment.  And boy do they need to be purposeful.  For most the notion of writing at length is novel and they are initially reluctant to do it; but as they start, cross out, and start again they start to see the point.  A couple of students look like they might actually be enjoying it.

Another benefit of coursework: imagination and enjoyment.  The only limits to what you can do are practical.  In a school like this, with resources as poor as outcomes, these practical considerations are real, frustrating, and serve to further the all too evident inequalities between schools.  But with a teacher’s imagination and resilience, coursework becomes the place where risks can be taken and where students can find their voice in ways that the examinations simply do not have the flexibility to accommodate.  I take every opportunity to explain that this is what writers do: think, draft, redraft, edit.

So, I’m making the most of the fact that these Year Eleven students are behind.  I’ve changed my mindset: they have five opportunities to demonstrate that their efforts will contribute towards their final grades in a meaningful way.  I enjoy the fact that students are peppering their conversations with me with references to grades, drafting, and redrafting.

Nobody has repeated that it’s crap, this.  That appears to have been edited out.