Shark, Squirrel and Tiger join a GCSE Geography workshop at the Field Studies Centre in Essex.
I cannot fault it. If you are looking round here for support on the Geography IGCSE, then it is 100% on target. The workshop is highly organised, clearly structured, flawlessly delivered, with all points an A* candidate needs to make carefully laid out and indicated.
Even more remarkable, the teacher leading our session was superb and - despite the fact that she must deliver this workshop a hundred times to know the script by rote - maintained interest and liveliness, and brought all the equipment safely back to base. More than I ever managed to do with 32 copies and a drawn out six weeks to plod through The Turbulent Term of Tyke Tiler. Give her a pay rise.
And Epping Forest is beautiful. I became totally distracted throughout.
And look! I found nibbled flint, so there's some paleolithic digging to be done.
So yes, all encouraging, if Tinkertop needs to learn the practical measurement of river characteristics.
But the day told me more, too, in wider ways. What the learning culture is; how it relates to the exam process, how the school student is brought up to interact with their discipline.
For that A*, do not deviate from the given answer one bit. Reproduce the bullet points. Supply keywords. Make the points concisely and accurately in the expected order. An excellent memory is needed, as is unquestioning compliance to the given answer, and the ability to pull off that pseudo-scholar trick: copy the teacher's answer in your own words.
You can say this is a great advancement in the schooling and testing of 16-year olds, ensuring the high attainment of grades across the country. It is great for international tables and shows how England is producing truly world-class students. Look at the numbers of these A*!
Or it is a sad reflection on the times. By the end of secondary, it will not have been possible, under the present testing regime, to take the time to stimulate creative flair, originality, or independence of approach. Neither will the culture have seriously engaged with student-initiated work, genuine probing dialogue between student and teacher, nor exploration of problems from far-out angles or oblique perspectives.
But did not education go through a stage - post Plowden - when children were, within the schooling limits, invited to explore, make intellectual inquiries, given open-ended questions, and generally encouraged to work out how to achieve what they wanted to do? I can remember my project on dinosaurs even now! The further up the system you went, the less free-ranging that inquiry could become, and the PhD was like a straightjacket, but nevertheless, the spirit for your average school student was find out first, then see how you do in the exam at the end.
Now we are teaching to the exams from the word go. From primary - no, pre-primary - we have a straitjacket approach to learning. Play is restricted, free-range thinking discouraged, off-curriculum exploration labelled as time wasting and unproductive. Answers are delivered and repeated and routes beaten to achieve that A*, which is all that seems to matter.
So the workshop was totally targeted, focused, and delivered efficiently and more than capably. I recommend it for your exam focused Tinkertop.
Even we are learning to play the game.
But still, I just hope there remain enough people out there who continue to obstinately believe that a child is not the sum of their grades, and that a questioning approach to the world - even if it earns a Grade D - can be a great reflection on a character.
And who knows? In another 20 years, we might get Plowden coming round again.