As I said in an earlier blog, I am currently visiting family in Germany. At the weekend, we went to the local Gymnasium (grammar school) to see my nephew perform in his choir. It was a large school that takes more than 1,500 pupils and it is seen as the ‘best’ school in the area. Being a grammar it is selective, but it is selective on the basis of the primary school teachers’ judgement. The children do not take a test, but those that are seen as ‘Gymnasium material’ are allowed to apply. What is taken into account is the effort and achievement of children over the years rather than their performance in a one-off test. How sensible!

Whilst there, I couldn’t help but make comparisons between this German school and those that I know back home. Obviously, it being the weekend I wasn’t able to see any teaching or learning.

The building itself was beautiful – red brick and an imposing four floors high. It had wide, bright corridors with huge windows and was built on three sides of a square around a courtyard.

Yet it was stark. No work of the children was displayed – not in the main hall, nor in any of the classrooms that I managed to peek into. Nor did I spot any displays showing the children what they were learning, how to learn it, or what the rules were. There were no cups, shields, newspaper cutouts, no boards announcing sporting fixtures or results. There was no attempt to impress people on arrival in the school – not even a reception desk, so I don’t know how parents and/or visitors are greeted – maybe they are simply not encouraged.

There was graffiti in the toilets – a lot of it, and no attempt had been made to remove it.

Outside, the courtyard was a grey, concrete area with a couple of benches and not much shade. The only colour came from the bright red snack bar in the shape of a can with “Coca-Cola” written in huge letters.

It seemed to me that there is plenty of good practice that the teachers from this German school could learn from a visit to an English school.

Yet, there was one area where I thought that we should take a lesson from them – once past the rather ugly courtyard, there was a small, fenced in field. In this field were three or four sheep and a lamb, which (according to the sign) were being looked after by Class 7F. Next to the field were a vegetable garden, a botanic garden and a greenhouse in which all sorts of plants were being grown – these were, presumably, watered with water pumped by hand from the nearby well. In a hidden corner there was an area designed to attract moths, solitary bees and other insects, presumably designed and crafted in a D&T lesson.

I understand that, in this German school, these are not extra curricular activities, but are part of the every day teaching and learning. I wonder how many secondary schools in England are able to take time from the curriculum to offer children similar opportunities? I sincerely doubt that many grammar schools would be able to stop worrying about gaining 90% (plus) 5 A-C grades for long enough to allow children to raise sheep at the back of the school grounds. And now schools are under threat of closure if 30% of children don’t achieve that magic number, perhaps even those that do offer such valuable life skills will no longer be able to do so.