Thirty six pupils (boys and girls) armed with sketch books and cameras trudged willingly the London streets, galleries and museums. Daily they emerged, fresh-faced and sociable – interacting with the vast array of cultural showpieces the Big Smoke had to offer.
Firstly, the British Museum, where they’re instructed to focus on the details of death: how a myriad of ethnicities and personalities responded to dying and death in ritual displays and artwork. Totem poles, tablets, poetry, burial rites – documents and details that preserve and remember life and hope for it after death. A statue from Easter Island caught the eye. Anton and Elliot produced superb sketches that displayed real skill and concentration.
Friday was colder, damper but filled with activities. Its spectacular centerpiece was the V and A Museum, where the students assembled under the curved and cut glass of the grand chandelier to start a series of workshops: Mrs Naish, Miss Donohue, Mr Mace and Mr Cargill each contextualised a room in the gallery before setting the students going on activities that encouraged deep observance, interaction and reflection. Reconvening, it was clear to the staff that the pupils had appreciated the diverse work on photography, theatre and performance and classical sculpture. The National Portrait Gallery offered modern and classical portraiture and Leicester Square some welcome dining and shopping: Sandbach in the big city.
The Tate Modern, Saturday, provoked things further. Many of the pupils formed strong responses to the artwork. “How is this art?” asked Callum. It seemed a struggle for some to comprehend aspects of the ‘Traces’ exhibition. But struggle they did. Pop Art had instant reactions of recognition and many crammed the space around Nam Paik’s video art to watch, amongst other things, Nixon’s warped television face. Video a little closer to home, perhaps. But this trip was partly about stepping out of comfort zones. The Tate certainly succeeded in that.
A highlight for many was the Serpentine, situated in a melancholically picturesque Hyde Park, bursting with classy autumnal beauty. Comprising two small galleries, the Serpentine is a true gem. The main show was by the rising star Rachel Rose, who filled the space with swooping sounds and two short films entranced the watchful audiences. Some were inspired, others perturbed. George commented on the editing process: “I loved how effective the fast cuts were, when we saw the close-ups of the character’s eyes.” It led to some informed reflection as a group, both staff and pupils wanting to talk their experience through, and how it could eventually relate to the Creative Media installations the pupils themselves would produce.
The evening was spent together at a world famous chicken restaurant and soon the final day was upon us. The quirky Wellcome Collection was the location for a truly immersive piece of art. YellowBluePink by Ann Veronica Janssens was worth the wait. A disorientating, sensory room filled with coloured mist. As Dennis said, a “crazy” experience, but so interactive and refreshing in its presentation.
All that was left was a visit to the British Library – home of Shakespeare’s first Folio and the Magna Carta (amongst other treasures) to collect together sketches and ideas compiled over four fantastically enriching days.
Sandbach School is pleased to receive The Prince’s Teaching Institute Mark for 2014/15.
The Prince’s Teaching Institute (PTI) launched the Schools Programme in 2007 to recognise and reward school departments that develop inspirational ideas and activities which enhance the teaching of Art, English, Geography, History, Latin, Mathematics, Modern Foreign Languages, Music and Science, regardless of their pupils’ backgrounds or abilities. It is run as a membership group for school departments that choose to commit to increasing the challenge of their subject provision.
Our Geography, Languages and Music departments received the Mark in recognition of their hard work carried out in 2014/15.
The PTI’s Schools Programme is open to all state secondary schools in England. To become members, school departments must demonstrate their commitment to increasing teachers’ subject knowledge, and to furthering their students’ understanding of and enthusiasm for the subject, regardless of their background or ability. To achieve the PTI Mark, departments then have to demonstrate that they have increased the challenge within their subject curriculum; developed their staff’s own specialist subject knowledge; developed subject-based links outside school; and enthused their pupils through subject-based activities beyond the curriculum. After three years of Schools Programme membership, departments may choose to become Associate Departments by devising an advanced multi-year programme in one of these areas. As Associate Departments they will share their growing expertise with others in the Schools Programme to the benefit of all.
Mrs Sarah Burns, headteacher of Sandbach School said, ‘We are delighted to have been awarded the PTI Mark for our Geography, Languages and Music department’s innovative work, and will be proud to carry the Mark on our stationery and website as evidence of our commitment to inspirational teaching.’
The speaker at this year’s annual Commemoration Service is Old Sandbachian Nicholas Booth who left the School in 1982, became a writer, journalist and broadcaster but is now a novelist and lives in Sandbach. The theme of his speech will be ‘What you will learn from School – whether you know it or not – and how you can use that for the rest of your life’.
“What I had, and most of the people I know who have gone on to make their mark, is a thirst for knowledge,” he says. “Quite a lot of that came inadvertently.” In his case, it was studying Latin – which students at Sandbach School did in the early 80s and which he didn’t want to learn – but accidentally propelled him to learn how to write.
Whilst at School he was very keen on astronomy and somehow persuaded NASA to give him a summer job. But even after studying science at university, there were other interests that had been sparked at school.
“My first byline was in the school magazine. That was as good a training as anything to learn how to write.”
As a journalist he worked for many of the broadsheet newspapers and also wrote a number of books about astronomy before turning his hand to historical mystery thrillers. ‘Zigzag’, the story of a Second World War double agent, has recently been picked up by Tom Hanks’ Production Company and Nick is also in talks with TV and film companies about his latest book, ‘The Thieves of Threadneedle Street’, about a famous Victorian forgery.
Nick very kindly gave us an interview and talked to Joe Mace about his life both at School and afterwards.
When were you a student at Sandbach School?
September 1975 – June 1982. Which meant I started out at the ‘grammar school’ and left the Sixth Form when it had become Comprehensive. The teachers still wore gowns, some of us did Latin, so it was just like Hogwarts.
Can you tell me about the Astronomical Society?
I was mad keen on astronomy. I remember sitting in the old careers room and reading about a course in planetary meteorology. Weather! On other planets! In 1979 – the year that Tony Bartley and John Lonsdale joined the school – we formed the astronomical society. We built a telescope, hogged the video recorder (and taped everything we could) and had a great time. There were others who were involved who went on to greater things – one is now Dean of Science at Wolverhampton University, another is a world expert on the Earth’s core.
How did you originally get involved with NASA?
The year I did my O Levels, 1980, I realised that the next summer, Voyager 2 was going to fly past Saturn. At that time, it was being called The Last Picture Show. It looked as though it would be the last planetary encounter for a while. So I wrote a series of letters – sensible ones – that said I wanted to witness that, could I get a summer job. As you do.
And a remarkable scientist saw the potential. His name was Al Hibbs and he arranged for me to do that.
Did that spur you on to become a scientist?
Oddly, it had completely the opposite effect. Let me explain. Al was a student and close friend of Dick Feynman. Just do a search for both of them online. Feynman was a Nobel laureate who was famous for his eccentricities. They were brilliant. Meeting them made me realise what a second rate scientist I would have become. But then, virtually everyone else I have ever met in science since says the same – they were second rate compared to possibly the greatest theoretical physicist in the Twentieth Century.
But you learned something from them?
Absolutely. Take nobody’s word for it. Find out for yourself. Feynman, by the way, once went to CERN, the atom smasher in Geneva. He was being shown around one of the big forerunners of the LHP machine when the guide said something like, ‘Oh, Professor Feynman, we are running a test of one of your theories.’ To which he smiled and said ‘You didn’t believe me?’
What did you learn from school?
How to find things out. Most of the people I know who have gone on to greater things had that. We just wanted to learn. And you also pick up a few things along the way which come in useful. I gave up history at 14 and English literature at 15, and yet here I am writing about history.
Where and when did you go to study afterwards and what area of science was it you majored in?
London University, Bedford College. So my degree was in physics as all the astronomers said get to do the basics – and not just look at the pretty pictures. But I realised then that was what interested me. And, actually, writing about science, not being stuck in a lab somewhere. Again, the astronomy connection helped and I ended up working with Patrick Moore, a story in itself.
Tell us some Patrick Moore stories.
Working for him was exactly like you would imagine working for Patrick Moore. The best way I can put it was like working for an Old Testament prophet as you never quite knew when a thunderbolt would hit you. I have never met anyone since who was in the same league of getting hold of the wrong end of the stick. Or was unintentionally hilarious. You watch a Laurel and Hardy DVD and you see a fat man, a banana skin and an uncovered manhole. You know what is going to happen. So here is another. Patrick Moore, an irreplaceable photograph and an electric letter opener. Yes, destroyed in one go. Another time I was supposed to take some page proofs to where he was giving a lecture. I got there and the organiser said they had had a very odd answerphone message from the great man himself. No mobile phones then. A temp had written down — and I am not making this up – ‘will be late, can’t find belt’. And half an hour after he was due to appear, Patrick walked onto the stage with – again, I am not making this up – a piece of rope around his middle holding his trousers up.
I know you wrote a number of science books. Can you tell me a bit about those?
Long ago, in a galaxy far away – yes, I did. They always said write what you know. So when I started out I wrote about astronomy. I think I did about half a dozen and one, a kids’ book, took me a weekend. In 1988, I did a Mars book which was quite a good one; and then I did another on the ozone layer. By then I was writing for newspapers.
You started writing on the school magazine.
Yes, that was fun. We always did our best to make sure we never handed in our copy. Perfect training for a journalist. That, and thinking up silly headlines.
Which newspapers did you work on?
I freelanced for a while, mainly The Observer and The Guardian. And then in the mid-1990s I worked for The Times as an editor on the technology supplement. I did an online search the other day and found a load of stuff I had done for The Independent and The Sunday Times which I have no recollection of ever writing. Terrible thing, old age.
After newspapers, what did you do?
I was headhunted and worked for Granada, as it was then called, on all its online activities and then for Three Mobile, developing how you would present material on a small screen. The next time somebody annoys you when they are playing a game on a phone too loudly, you can thank me.
How did you then get into writing the genre of book you currently write?
Easy. I love mysteries. If you think about it ‘the origin of the universe’ is just about the biggest mystery ever. When I was starting out, a publisher said to me ‘Be careful you don’t end up writing the same book’ and that was what I would have done. I would have written the same astronomy book over again. So about a decade ago, I decided I wanted to write something different. About stuff that interested me. And I realised that having written about science, anything else was a doddle.
Can you tell me about ‘Zigzag’?
Sure. It’s a true story of a charming rogue and petty criminal called Eddie Chapman who was in jail in Jersey when the Germans invaded. He said ‘Ich Bin Ein Verbracker’ (I am a safebreaker) though his widow always said he was hopeless at anything technical. The German secret service trained him in sabotage. He was parachuted into Britain, captured and like all the other agents, turned against the Germans. He was given the codename Zigzag. But the British were never quite sure where his loyalties were; and neither were the Germans. So the story is about that: just what was he up to? Who was he really working for?
And ‘The Thieves of Threadneedle Street’?
Thieves is about the greatest forgery ever attempted. It’s another story you couldn’t make up – and it has chases, double crosses, ladies of the night, everything. The main character was 27 years old and had, oddly, 27 aliases. In 2008, when the world’s economies were collapsing, I wondered when was the first time this had happened? The answer was 1873. And that’s how I came across the story. So I spent two years researching and writing it, going through court transcripts, hitherto unknown files. Quite an amazing story. I spent a lot of time in the Bank of England, but they didn’t give me any free samples.
I understand Tom Hank’s production company are involved with your books. Can you tell me a bit about that?
Well, with ‘Zigzag’ they are. ‘Playtone’ – who made ‘Band of Brothers’ and other stuff Mr Hanks is involved in – bought the rights to ‘Zigzag’. Last time I looked, Mike Newell was attached as director. I want a cameo as a one-eyed German sabotage instructor who accidentally blew himself up. Or his stunt double. To be honest, with film stuff I don’t follow these things closely as it is a completely alien world! I have a film agent but we mainly discuss matters like why we didn’t like the last ‘Die Hard’ movie. Important stuff like that. We already have film and television interest in ‘Thieves’, but as you can imagine, that doesn’t mean anything. I have earmarked the role of a conductor as one of the forgers met his mistress at the opera.
Any plans for the future?
Yes. My next book is out in the spring and is about how British Intelligence used the occult in World War II – or rather, how they consulted with some very odd people in the hope that they could get a better understanding the advice Adolf Hitler was getting, with really very odd results and farcical consequences. One character was a Hungarian astrologer who used to dress up in women’s clothes. Another was a spymaster who used to walk around central London with his pet bear. In other words, these supposedly secret agents drew attention to themselves – just like James Bond, whose creator figures in the story, too, for Ian Fleming was involved with some very odd people. Again, you couldn’t make all this stuff up.
Follow Nick on Twitter @ThievesBook
Sandbach School MFL Department has successfully gained the
Princes’ Teaching Institute Mark for the third year running thus completing the Schools’ Programme.
Mrs Clare Haynes (ACL in MFL) has had responsibility for the PTI remit over the course of the 3 year schools’ programme. Each year she has attended the Schools Programme Day at Crewe Hall the purpose of which is to review the completion of the annual objectives.
Over the last academic year the department has been working to fulfil the objectives that were set out in July 2014. The aim is to enhance the learning and teaching that takes place, and to raise further the profile of MFL at Sandbach School and in the wider community.
In order to gain the PTI mark the MFL department has contributed to the development of A Level resources for teaching the Guided Study option of film. Dr Helga Hopkinson was invited to conduct a seminar on her experiences of life in the GDR, both pre and post German re-unification. In addition to this, Year 10 pupils took part in a day of workshops working with employees from Bentley Motors. This gave them the opportunity to gain experience of aspects of the business and the relevance of languages in the world of work. Year 5 and 6 pupils visited the department for a language experience this July and Sixth Form MFL students supported the delivery of this. The event was enjoyed by pupils and staff and feedback from the visiting Primary school has been very positive.
These are just some examples of the type of events and activities which have enabled us to retain the PTI mark for another year and to complete the Schools’ Programme. We look forward now to embarking upon the Associate Department Programme. For the next 3 years we will be working on a project which will help us to make the transition from the current MFL GCSE to the new GCSE due to start teaching in September 2016.