Head in the Clouds by Christopher Jarman

I downloaded this book because I thought it was going to be reminiscences about the Fleet Air Arm in the post WWII era which it was but it was so much more as well. After a detailed and fascinating account of the author’s service in the Fleet Air Arm, it recounts his subsequent career in the British state education system.

Author Christopher Jarman, who is approaching his eightieth birthday by my calculation, has had an amazingly rich and seemingly fulfilling life. He was educated on a scholarship at a public school as part of a social experiment in egalitarianism. He wanted to be a pilot but became an observer and officer in the Fleet Air Arm travelling the world in the process. He became inspired by the thought of teaching primary age children and after teacher training had an inspirational career as a class teacher, head teacher, local authority adviser and college lecturer. He developed his artistic talents and became an expert in calligraphy and handwriting which he taught to the children in his schools and to countless serving teachers. He was a writer, journalist and broadcaster, husband and father, yachtsman and late in life a qualified pilot. And last but not least, and most significant as far as I am concerned, he was the designer and instigator of a range of classroom equipment produced by the House of Osmiroid that were the “must-have” items for all half-way decent primary teachers for over twenty years.

The book is slightly dated in places and reflects some of the attitudes towards women that were prevalent in the sixties and seventies but not in any way intended to offend. It has a refreshing honesty at times and is also laugh aloud funny. The book is well written although it would have benefitted from a more rigorous typo-checking; it draws on some of the writer’s published pieces as well as his memories, anecdotes and sometimes rather barbed comments about more recent developments in British primary education.

I highlighted some of Mr Jarman’s observations on education on my Kindle; they should be required reading for all politicians who have conspired to ruin a state primary education system that was once the envy of the world. I hope he won’t mind if I quote them here:

“I was discovering that the secret of learning is motivation. Children will learn by rote things that they do not understand, but they learn much better and more permanently when they are keen and interested…….. I wanted to be famous for high standards; and you don’t achieve that by mere rote learning; there has to be involvement.”

“Looking back…… not only do children thrive on praise and encouragement but so do the teachers.”

“now, 25 years later our worst nightmares have come true. The National Curriculum and the demands of Ofsted seem to have locked primary teaching into the very state that we found in the worst of American practice in the 1970s.”

If you only want to read about the naval service aspect of the book you might decide to leave it when the author returns to civvy street; I would suggest you stick with it: an entertaining, thought provoking and informative read throughout; well worth the £0.77p I paid for it.

Further details about the book are on the author's Amazon Author page here.