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In education, over the years, some things change and some things stay the same. Some things on the school curriculum go out of fashion, and come back in again, depending on which way the wind is blowing. Other things have been taught forever and continue to be taught in primary school today, capturing the imagination of children all around the country.

On the 5th November 1972, I remember concentrating harder than I’ve ever concentrated, working on a piece of writing in my topic book. At Brookmans Park Primary School we’d just heard the story of The Gunpowder Plot and now it was time to write all about it. Back in the day, children weren’t trusted to use their own words, instead we dutifully copied the teacher’s exemplar from the blackboard. We waited expectantly as Mrs Green picked up the chalk, and in beautiful copperplate handwriting she wrote, ‘On the 5th of November 1605, Guy Fawkes plotted to blow up the Houses of Parliament’. We didn’t really know what the Houses of Parliament were, or what plotting meant, but it didn’t matter; it sounded exciting and it didn’t spoil our enjoyment. Then we set to work, in silence – you could hear a pin drop. I remember being particularly pleased with my efforts until disaster struck. To my horror, instead of ‘up’, I had written ‘pu’ – and, to the horror of Mrs Green, I let out a clearly audible swear word. Admittedly it wasn’t the worst swear word, but in 1972 ‘damn’ was pretty bad, and what followed at the hands of Mrs Green wasn’t far off that experienced by Guy Fawkes himself. I dutifully accepted my punishment and was allowed to join in the afternoon activities: wax-resist firework paintings and firework poems. I still have my piece of writing and it still brings a smile to my face.

Incidentally, the school firework display of 1972 was also memorable for the fact that it went dramatically wrong, with all the fireworks going off at once. Having witnessed this, I’ve long championed this approach to fireworks displays. Why stretch things out when you can have something that will live in the memory forever?

Roll forwards 45 years and our Year 1 children at Highgate Primary School have also been learning about The Gunpowder Plot. The story hasn’t changed, however these days the approach to teaching captures the children’s imaginations in a way that has confined Mrs Green’s style of teaching to history. Once the class had heard the story, groups of children carried out a search of the school basement, with candles, seeking out Catholic dissenters and barrels of gunpowder. Creeping around in the basement is quite scary, and the children loved it. Shrieks could be heard around the school as Guy Fawkes was discovered and, once again, the plot was foiled. This was followed by a firework display, albeit, slightly less dramatic than that of 1972. The children made all the right noises, waved sparklers, drank hot chocolate and ate marshmallows. I was delighted to note that this was followed up with wax-resist firework paintings and firework poems.

I spoke with a parent last week who told me that her son had the best day of his life last week. Learning about The Gunpowder Plot was like birthday and Christmas rolled into one.