26 January 2018

We have a number of invigilators in school this week as year 11 students are completing mock exams. On Wednesday an invigilator asked for directions and I explained that ‘You need to go straight past Lydia and turn right.’ They nodded, but rightly, looked a little perplexed.

Lydia is the name given to the school library. The first student to be admitted to Durham Johnston in 1901 was Lydia Pearson, a 13 year old Signalman’s daughter from Langley Park. The second student was Frances Guthrie. Her school admission record states: ’16. Orphan. Leazes Place.’ The 1901 intake were given a tour of the school library on their first day. They will have been shown the ‘200 volumes presented by the Trustees of the Mechanic Institute.’ Would they have been given access to such a large collection of books before?

Many of our students read in their free time at school. During lunch this week I have spoken to 16 students, with 16 different books. They have eclectic taste; fantasy, humour, adventure and horror. Whilst the genres are diverse, the individuals do share a characteristic; all have been female. There are national concerns about boys and books. It is also clear that the new GCSE exams require increasing levels of literacy and that reading from an early age can be hugely beneficial.

Like many teenage boys, I had a limited interest in reading when starting secondary school. It struggled to compete with playing sport, roaming with friends or listening to music. Two things altered that; my sister’s record collection and a friend’s copy of Smash Hits.

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Sound Affects by The Jam made me curious about the three verses, opposite the track listing, attributed to Shelley. The photograph of Paul Weller reading George Orwell gave me the impetus to read 1984. Miss O’Shea, my English teacher, contributed by steering me in the direction of the Masque of Anarchy and then Animal Farm. A love of reading is not necessarily instigated by books on a shelf or in a library. It can come at any time and from anywhere. If you have the opportunity to spend time with your son or daughter this weekend, ask them what they would like to read. Tell them about a book that you have enjoyed.

Mr O’Sullivan