This panorama, and those below, is taken from the fells above Allan Bank, a  National Trust property in Grasmere, looking northwards towards Helvellyn. It’s great because you can see how even the snowline is. It was the highlight of a 3 day visit to Cumbria earlier in the week, and not just for the scenery. Allan Bank, among other residents, counts William Wordsworth as one (he was a mobile sort of guy, and the number of places in the Lake District which claim him is large, and growing). You can keep Wordsworth, actually. The house, ugly enough on the outside to show off mid-Wales council houses to good effect, was the property from 1915 of somebody infinitely more interesting, Revd Hardwicke Rawnsley, who is famous for a number of things.

Mostly, the National Trust have made him famous for inventing the National Trust. But he was one of those great late Victorians who knew and appreciated John Ruskin (Ruskin’s house is not far distant, on Coniston Water) and who shared his views on human creativity. He combined faith and ministry with an educational impulse and an awareness of the importance of craftsmanship that led him and his first wife Edith to create the Keswick School of Industrial Art, which closed in the 1980s after a life that spanned nearly 100 years. He also founded Keswick High School, was a friend of Beatrix Potter (a photo of the two together can be seen in Wray Castle on Windermere) and among other fascinating facts, narrowly avoided becoming the Bishop of Madagascar, a fate that could so easily befall any one of us.

Seriously, Allan Bank has been in the NT for years, and could do with a good scrub up. But just because of this, it is one of the most hospitable and homely places that I have ever been in. It is absorbing in its simplicity, and left a far greater impression on me than palaces, grand houses and gardens elsewhere across the NT estate. It seems to revel in its own imperfections, something which I really think is emerging as an approach to doing school. Like many places we saw in Cumbria, dogs were allowed in – and fed – and coffee was served on an offering basis in a jar. The volunteers were kind and realistic about the place, and clearly loved what it stood for, and more welcoming than many at NT properties. It was, genuinely, a sorrow to leave: it had such a feel of being somebody’s home, all slightly down at heel – even the grand piano in the hall had lost the key to the lid, which was all of a piece.

The idea for this post came from this piece of writing which I found in Allan Bank – part of a celebration of Rawnsley’s life.

Making things with our hands gives tangible results. Craft allows us to revel in imperfection, the inconsistency of each piece created by hand distinguishes it from the mass produced, machine made perfection we expect from everyday objects.

The Keswick School of Industrial Art had as its objectives,

“to counteract the pernicious effect of turning men into machines without possibility of love of their work…to make it felt that hand-work did really allow the expression of a man’s soul and self, and so was worth doing for its own sake, and is worth purchasing at some cost to the buyer”

To revel in imperfection. Isn’t this wonderful as a metaphor for creativity in teaching? What better describes children than the “inconsistency of each piece?” And have we not lost everything as teachers when we lose the possibility of “love of their work” – that which keeps is as amateurs in a professional world?

This is not an argument for low standards. It is an argument for reality, for taking into account children as we see them, a class as we see them, fellow teachers and leaders as we find them, and enjoying, celebrating and revelling in the fact that the imperfection and inconsistency that we see in everything actually make for the interest. To requote Abed Ahmed from Saturday’s conference, stammer with confidence! Make the most of who you are and all that you have, whether others perceive it as disability or fault or whatever.

Printmakers know this. There are no two prints that are identical, and it is in the difference within a single edition that makes for the interest. And God knows this, too. If there were no imperfections and distortions in a quartz lattice, we would never get amethyst, or citrine, or rose quartz. So much for the doctrine of perfection in creation.

This is vital, because God creates us with, if you will, “imperfections.” They are, truly, what we are and what we were meant to be. God adores each one just as he made them, and not because they are striving to look like somebody else. We might see them as imperfections, but really they are not.

When I look at my teaching team, and ponder on what makes me proudest of them, it is this: their ability to take each child, to find a home for each one in their classes through careful pastoral work and (often) a deep love for each one. This results in cases of exquisite care and patience taken with the most vulnerable and distressed, the work of a potter with a piece of clay, not giving up at the first attempt, but also rejoicing in every little thing that makes each (inconsistent) child grow closer to the vision that his or her creator, our great King, Jesus Christ, has for them.

That is a paragraph that ought to go in our school Self Evaluation Form, I suppose.


About Huw Humphreys

I am a headteacher by profession, now working as an educational researcher, in the city of Milton Keynes, where I have been since April 2011. My work looks to make education effective for the whole child and keeps a distant relationship with the powers that be and their narrowing approach to education... but most of all I am looking to find out what it means to be both a follower of Jesus Christ and a passionate educator in the midst of an unsettled community. I am also a part time musician, amateur printmaker, part time linguist and lover of history and literature...committed both to freedom to learn and depth of learning for children. The views on this blog are all my own.

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