I don’t know where they stand in those silly league tables or how they got on with their latest Ofsted, but if I was young enough to still have kids at primary school, then St Francis at Taw Hill is where I’d like to send them. In fact, I wouldn’t mind going there myself.
Any school that provides equipment for children to make dens at play time and lunchtime gets a great big gold star from me.
At St Francis, they called in a firm called Copper Beech Garden Design, who supplied a number of fixed wooden structures and some planks and poles for the kids to make into dens.
The first thing I like about it is it debunks the myth that everything we do these days is governed by “Health and Safety gone mad”.
In fact, one of the teachers admitted there were “bumps and scrapes” (although not many), which suggests a healthy policy of not wrapping children up in cotton wool, which I reckon makes them more aware of dangers in the long run.
The second thing I like about it is it teaches skills that all children formerly developed to a high level, back in the days before computer games and a thousand other sanitised and pointless pastimes distracted them from the essential art of den building.
To be honest, I wasn’t even aware kids still made dens.
I reckon schools should forget their Pythagoras, their litmus paper and their Anglo Saxons until a child can build a little shelter out of stuff that’s lying around, because otherwise easy lessons have not been learned about planning, design, co-ordination, teamwork, materials, materials handling, construction, Health and Safety, innovation, creativity, structural analysis and probably another dozen skills that nobody ever learned in a classroom.
The only worrying thing about the dens at St Francis is they seem to be missing the most important ingredient: tarpaulins.
In our day dens could be constructed in trees, out of pallets, by clearing undergrowth, or digging a small trench and building a framework over the top, but there was one common denominator in every den, and that was a sheet of tarpaulin.
The funny thing is: I never knew where this tarpaulin came from, or where you could have bought it if you had any money, but it always turned up.
Not that dens are only for children, of course. I no longer build dens in the garden – although don’t think I haven’t wanted to – but I do have a loft that I officially call an office, but which really only differs from the idea of a childhood den in that it has a roof over it, instead of tarpaulin.
Judging by the way politicians of all colours have managed to make a complete hash of education in this country, I don’t think you will find many of them prescribing den making for the National Curriculum, but it’s any idea most other people seem to support.
When I Googled “building dens”, there was no shortage of serious advice from all manner of highly respected organisations, including the National Trust, the Woodland Trust, the Eden Project, the Forestry Commission and the BBC.
If all those, along with switched-on schools like St Francis Primary, all understand the value of den building, how come our so-called leaders don’t encourage it? Have they never heard that famous saying? The den is mightier than the sword.