Thursday, 20 April 2017

For teachers: how to assess and analyse ways in which pupils respond to stories, poems and plays

(This is an update of a previous post.
You can copy it, use it, circulate it, adapt it, select parts of it etc etc. It would be nice if you acknowledged that I wrote it!)

Over the last 5 years, I’ve been involved in supervising students doing a single term’s module on an MA, in which some have chosen to analyse their pupils’ responses to literature. Frequently, the issue that has arisen: exactly how do we as teachers evaluate what the pupils are saying or writing? We can of course accept the criteria required by the test and exam systems. Or we can draw on reader-response theory and a long history of talk analysis to draw up our own criteria.

My own impression looking across a wide range of references, there isn’t anything which does this job exactly. There are various breakdowns of the process of reader-response and various breakdowns of children’s talk , mostly with teachers and on occasions on their own, but nothing that I could find which covered both.

As a result, I’ve produced what is in effect a 'matrix' for use by teachers or anyone else wanting to do just this: analyse the kinds of talk and writing that pupils do in response to literature. It’s not intended to be a strict, fixed matrix; some of the categories overlap. Not all of the categories fit all situations. It’s intended to be both a work in progress and part of a process in which teachers and researchers adapt and refine what I've written as part of developing their own ideas in practice.

The matrix

When we make comments about literature (or when children or school students are in pairs or groups in a classroom) it's possible to evaluate those comments, notes or passages of writing.

One way to do this is to make transcripts of what they are saying.

These can be when they are in conversation with the teacher or with each other in pairs or groups.

The nature of the conversation will depend greatly on how it is set up: what kinds of questions the teachers set, or indeed if the questions originate from the students themselves.

This is worth experimenting with along the lines of what seems to be the most useful and fruitful way to set things up so that pupils do the most amount of engaged reflection.

When you look at a transcript of how the students talk, it's possible to categorise the comments. Here are some suggested categories:

1. Experiential - this where we relate what is in the text with something that has happened to me or to someone I know. One useful trigger question for this is simply: ‘Is there anything you’ve just read which reminds you of something that has happened to you, or someone you know? - Why?- How?’

2. Intertextual - this is where we relate what is in the text to another text. One useful trigger for this question is: ‘Is there anything you’ve just read which reminds you of something you’ve read, seen on TV, online, at the cinema, a song, a play, a show? - Why? How?’

3. Intratextual - this is where we relate one part of the text to another part. One useful trigger for this question arises out of a moment in a piece of literature where we ask: ‘But how do we know that, using something or anything that came before?’ (I have a nickname for this which younger children enjoy: I call it ‘harvesting’ - that is, collecting up information or feelings from other parts of the text.

4. Interrogative - where we ask questions of the text and voice puzzles and are tentative about something. One trigger question for this is, ‘Is there anything here we don’t understand or are puzzled by?’ This can be followed up by, ‘Is there anyone here who thinks they can answer that?’ And ‘Does anyone have any ideas about how we can go about finding an answer to that?’

5. Semantic - where we make comments about what something in the text means.

6. Structural - where we indicate we are making a comment about how a part or whole of the piece has been put together, 'constructed'.

7. Selective analogising - where we make an analogy between one part of the text and something from anywhere else (e.g. as in 1, 2, 3). There will be an implied 'set' or 'series' being constructed here around a motif or theme or feeling. This process of analogising is extremely important even though it is often masked by seemingly trivial comments like, ‘I remember a time when I was sad...’ The importance lies in the fact that the pupil at this point is in fact creating an unstated abstraction. It is halfway (or more) towards abstract thought. Perhaps, it becomes fully abstract when the pupil(s) give that ‘set’ a name: eg ‘Sadness’ or ‘Emotions’ or some such.

8. Speculative - where we make speculations about what might happen, what could have happened. This is any kind of comment in the category of ‘I wonder...’ or ‘What if...’

9. Reflective - where we make interpretative statements often headed by 'I think...’ ie more committed than ‘speculative’.

10. Narratological - where we make comments about how the story has been told e.g. about narrators, methods of unfolding a story, what is held back, what is revealed. ('Narratology'). It may include an awareness of how stories have episodes, and sudden 'turns' or 'red herrings', flashbacks, flash forwards etc.

11. Evaluative - where we make value judgements about aspects of a text of the whole. These can be comments about significance, ‘what the author is getting at...’, or ‘why someone in the text said ‘x’’.

12.. Eureka moments - where we announce that we have suddenly 'got it'.

13. Effects - where we sense that an 'effect' has been created in us (or in others we have observed) because of the way something has been written. ‘This made me jump..’ ‘This made me sad...’ Response journals, or post-it notes on poem-posters and the like can ‘grab’ these very well.

14.. Storying - this is where we make a comment which is in essence another story. This is not trivial. As with ‘analogising’ (above) will almost certainly involve the making of a 'set' or a 'series' ie something has been selected from the original text in order to trigger off the new one. This is an implied generalisation.

15. Descriptive, - where we recount aspects of the text. This may well be more significant than it first appears because we can ask, why was this moment selected for the recount? Again, this may well be part of ‘analogising’ and/or ‘storying’.

16. Grammatical - where we draw attention to the structure of sentences - syntax, or how individual words are used grammatically.

17. Prosodic - where we draw attention to the sound of parts of the whole of a piece ie the 'music' of it. I have outlined in my book ‘What is Poetry? (Walker) how you can invite pupils to determine this themselves by using what I call ‘secret strings’ ie finding links between parts of poems whether linked by sound or by meaning.

18. . Effect of interactions: where we draw attention to how people interact ie how people (any character) treats another, how they 'relate' and what is the outcome of how they relate. In my experience, this is more valuable than simply trying to describe ‘character’.

19. Imaginative - where we move to another artistic medium in order to interpret what we have been reading or viewing....this may well involve more 'generalising' or 'abstract thought' than first appears because it involves 'selecting' something from the original text and creating some kind of 'set' or 'series' with it in creating something new. If pupils are asked 'why' this can be teased out.

20. Emotional flow: these are comments which show how feelings towards the protagonists change. Some people have invented 'flow maps' where you can draw up a kind of graph or chart, with the key moments in the plot along the bottom axis, and emotional states on the vertical axis...then you can label the line on the graph.

21. 'Author intention' - this might come partly under the category of 'speculative' - above - ie what the author could have written. Or it might be part of 'effect' ie how has the author created an effect. Word of warning: if this is separated from 'how it affected me' or 'how it affected someone else', this is of course speculation. The routine of a good deal of 'criticism' is to assume precisely the opposite ie because there is a certain literary feature - e.g. alliteration using a 'hard' sound, that it has a specific 'effect' - e.g. being insistent or heavy - and that the author intended these, which may or may not be the case.

22. Contextual - every piece of literature comes from a time and place. The person reading or spectating it will not be in exactly the same time and place. Many responses and critical ideas and thoughts go on because of this 'gap'. Students may well know or speculate about the gap, or the context ('They didn't used to do that sort of thing in those days') and of course, may ask questions and/or we offer them information or they are encouraged to research the context(s).

23. Representational or symbolic - where we make comments about what we think something 'represents'. This might be about 'character' where we say that a person 'represents' the class or type he or she comes from...'typical x kind of person'. It might be about parts of the landscape or the nature of the landscape - as it represents a particular kind of challenge to the protagonist. It could be a feature in the landscape/cityscape ie a particular kind of tree or building. It could be a single object that represents something more than itself - a torn piece of paper. And so on.

24. Extra-textual - comments that have apparently nothing to do with what's in the text and are about what's going on in the classroom or they are about pupils' interactions. Often these are as they seem to be but just occasionally they may well relate to how the pupils are interpreting e.g. a personal comment about 'You always say things like that...' may well be an indirect comment about this text and others.

In terms of teaching, we may want to emphasise one, some or several of these responses. We may want to develop one, some or several. We may want to induce the students to ask 'why' about any or all of them so that we can advance their ability to reason and rationalise. We may want to compare any of these with how the teacher or critics have responded in order to take the comments and thinking to a new level.

Michael Rosen 20.04.2017

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Hot cross buns? Or not hot cross buns?

When I was growing up my father and mother were in the Communist Party. One result of this was that they tended to mark everything as OK or not-OK. They were also Jewish - lapsed - or collapsed - not sure which - and this also had some OK or not-OK things about it too. As a kid, I didn't always know whether the OK or not-OK thing being talked about was OK or not-OK because they were Communists or because they were Jewish or both. Liking pickled herring was, I figured, not a Communist thing. But what about Jesus? My dad said that there was nothing wrong with Jesus but 'You don't have to be meek. If they tell you at school, you have to be meek, say you don't want to be meek, you want to be bold.' So, was that a Communist thing, or a Jewish thing? I don't know.
Anyway, my mum died a long time ago and my dad died in 2008, and I sometimes wake up and feel that I need to refer to them about something...something doctrinal like Jeremy Corbyn, or hot cross buns. I've figured out the Corbyn thing all on my own. Well, with the help of a few thousands others, but let's keep politics out of this for a moment. What about hot cross buns?

Easy. They're bloody lovely.

But I didn't do it. I really didn't. It was a long time ago.

"Boss Baby" - Karl Marx, spaghetti coming out of your nose, and commodity fetishism

One thing that we marxists have bang on about is how capitalism is not just an economic system but how it reaches into all parts of society and life. So, the word 'love' is not really some kind of abstract, constant, universal but is expressed through specific ways depending on its time and place. Under capitalism (as we say), there's no part of love that is fully free of how we earn and spend money, how beauty is commodified, (ie bought and sold) and so on and so on. (I'm sure i don't need to go on.)

My cinema-going habits are partly determined by our son (12) who said he wanted to see 'Boss Baby'. It's a bizarre film if only because one of the main characters is a baby who is really a man - unlike Stewie in 'Family Guy' who is a baby who talks like a man. This baby in 'Boss Baby' really is a man. Or at least he's part of an unknown conspiracy called Baby Corp, where babies behave as if they are men. One of the central gags of the film is that this man-baby is here on earth because it's his job to wreck the plans of Puppy Co (another corporation) who want to supplant 'love-for-babies' with 'love-for-puppies'.

As I was watching this I started to feel uneasy and a bit cross. I thought, hell, this is just selling corporate America. The only options on offer here are corporate love for babies, or corporate love for puppies. As it happens, (spoiler alert), the implication at the end is that 'true love' overcomes the needs and desires of the corporations. (sibling love, that is.)

Then on reflection - after the movie - I decided that I had got the film wrong. In fact, it's a marxist satire on the commodification of love - what Marx called 'commodity fetishsm'. It's saying that what we think of as love can be (and has) been taken over by corporations (or capitalism, if you prefer the old term.)

Anyway, nothing's certain in this world. Our son said he liked it but only gave it a a 6 and a half. Some kids down the front liked the bit where the baby swallows some spaghetti and it comes out of his nose. I didn't hear them talk about Marx's theory of commodity fetishism but perhaps I wasn't near enough to them to catch that bit.

Friday, 14 April 2017

Eleven grammar school myths and the actual facts

(From Local Schools Network - contact at the bottom of this article)

Many claims are made by the proponents of grammar schools, with their rose-tinted view of a bygone era. How well do they stand up to a bit of analysis? The information here is taken from my contribution to the Civitas publication "The Ins and Outs of Selective Secondary Schools: A Debate", published today.

Myth 1: Comprehensives have failed

Comprehensive schools come in for frequent criticism in Parliament and the press. However the comprehensive period has been one of an unparalleled increase in educational opportunity. The proportion of young people achieving 5 O Levels or GCSEs has risen from less than one in four in 1976 to more than three in four by 2008. The proportion in education at the age of 17 rose from 31% in 1977 to 76% in 2011, even before it became compulsory. While some argue there is an element of “grade inflation”, there can be no dispute about the increase in students going on to higher education. The number achieving a degree has gone from 68,000 in 1981 to 331,000 in 2010, an almost five-fold increase. (Source: House of Commons)

It is now the case that four in five schools are rated Good or Outstanding by Ofsted. Up until three years ago Ofsted collected data on parents' views of schools and published the results in their annual report. In 2011 it found that 94% of parents were happy with their child's school, a remarkable level of satisfaction.

Fact: The comprehensive period has been one of huge expansion of educational opportunity and parents are generally happy with the comprehensive that their child attends.

Myth 2: The Grammar School system was popular in the 1950s and 60s

Far from being popular, many regard the selective system as one of the reasons the Tories lost the 1964 election. The Crowther Report, commissioned by Conservative Secretary of State David Eccles, stated in 1959 that the rapid rise in school rolls after the war "has largely increased public clamour against a competitive element in grammar school selection, which seems to parents to be contrary to the promise of secondary education according only to 'age, aptitude and ability'". (p5)

While grammar schools were popular with those parents whose children succeeded in gaining entry to them, the system was not popular with those whose children had failed the eleven-plus. A policy that was disliked by three in four voters was clearly not a clever electoral strategy. Simon Jenkins recalledthe climate at the time:

“At political meetings at the end of the 1960s, Edward Boyle [Minster of Education from 1962 to 1964] was torn limb from limb by conservative voters, infuriated that their children who had ‘failed’ the eleven-plus were being sent to secondary moderns, along with 70-80% of each age group. They had regarded the grammars as ‘their schools’. The eleven-plus, they said, lost them the 1964 election and would lose them every one until it was abolished. Margaret Thatcher recognised this as has every Tory party in practice ever since.”

Fact: The grammar school system was actually very unpopular in its heyday, which was why both parties were happy to see it changed.

Myth 3: Grammar schools in the 50s and 60s were a path to success for the poor

In the grammar school period, while 33% of those whose father's profession was termed "higher professional" got onto a degree course at university, only 2% of those from a skilled manual background did so and just 1% of those from a semi-skilled or unskilled background. (Robbins Report)

However the numbers may have appeared higher to those who were then at university. The manual workforce represented such a large part of the working population (almost three in four of all workers at that time) that the tiny proportions of their children that got to university added up to significant numbers. Even though only 1% and 2% respectively of the children of the two manual groups reached university, those children would have represented just over one in four of all students at university then. The impression would have been of many students of working-class origin, even though very very few from this background did succeed in getting to higher education. (Source: Gurney-Dixon report)

Fact: In the grammar school era only a tiny proportion of those from semi-skilled or unskilled backgrounds got to university.

Myth 4:The working-class kids who got to grammar school did well

The Gurney-Dixon Report (1954), “Early Leaving”, identified that even if children of semi-skilled and unskilled workers got into grammar schools they were more likely to leave early without gaining qualifications. Two thirds of the children of unskilled workers, who did attend Grammar Schools, left without 3 O levels.

In the early 1960s, according to the Robbins Report, 26% of children were from the “unskilled working-class”. Yet they represented just 0.3% of those achieving two A-levels or more at grammar schools.

Fact: Those few working-class children who got to grammar school did not succeed, in terms of exam results

Myth 5: Grammar schools enabled greater social mobility

The belief that social mobility has reduced is based on a 2005 LSE report. It compared a group of boys born in 1958 with one born in 1970. For those born in the poorest quartile, 42% reached the top half of earners from the 1958 group but only 35% from the 1970 group. But if the argument is that selection enabled bright children from lower income backgrounds to be upwardly mobile, it would need to be the case that most of these children benefited from selection. There are several key reasons why this is not the case

Firstly, most of the earlier 1958 cohort would actually have attended a comprehensive school at some point in their education. When they started secondary education in 1969 or 1970, almost a third of children were in comprehensive schools. By the time they took O levels in 1974 or 1975, almost two thirds of secondary schools were comprehensive.

Secondly, advocates of selection argue that the upward mobility of 40% of the poorest students was down to the opportunities provided by grammar schools. The suggestion is that poor students were able to attend grammar school, succeed there, go on to university and then move into high-paying jobs.

However it was never the case that anywhere near that 40% proportion went to grammars. The Crowther Report of 1959 found that only 10% of the children in the poorest section of the population attended grammar school. If only 10% of poorer students went to grammar schools, and only a minority of these went on to university, it is hard to see how such schools could be responsible for the upward mobility of 40% of that population. With few of those attending secondary moderns even taking O levels, it seems that most of that 40% were then able to succeed without strong educational qualifications.

Therefore It is far more likely that working class success of this period is down to other factors, such not then needing the level of qualifications now required to enter professional careers. During the great wave of social mobility in the 50s and 60s, for example, journalists might have worked their way up through the local newspaper, lawyers through the article route, or accountants by starting out as a bookkeeper. Such opportunities have diminished hugely in recent decades:

Fact: While social mobility may have been higher this cannot have been due to grammar schools as so few poor children attended them

Myth 6: Grammar schools enable social mobility now

The experience of the remaining selective school areas indicate that grammar schools are no more a vehicle for social mobility now than they were fifty years ago. The proportion of students from disadvantaged backgrounds is far smaller than in the population as a whole.

The Sutton Trust found that on the old DfE measure of disadvantage (% of pupils currently on free school meals) less than 3% of pupils in grammar schools are eligible for free school meals, compared to 18% nationally.

My analysis using the new DfE measure of disadvantage (those on free school meals at any point in the last six years, plus looked-after children) found similar conclusions. The percentage of disadvantaged pupils in grammar schools is one fifth of those in other schools in those areas. Indeed there isn't a single grammar school in England where the proportion of disadvantaged students is above the national average. (Source: DfE data)

The disadvantage of poor children applies even to those of the highest ability. Researchers Adele Atkinson, Paul Gregg, and Brendon McConnell found that poor children in selective areas were only half as likely to attend a grammar school as other children with the same underlying ability (as measured by their Key Stage 2 test scores). They found that of those in the top three groups at age 11, just 32% of those eligible for free school meals attended grammar schools compared with 60% of children from better-off backgrounds.

Fact: Disadvantaged students are massively under-represented in grammar schools, even among those who achieved strong grades at primary school

Myth 7: More state school students got to Oxbridge in the grammar school era

The claim that “the percentage of state school students at Oxbridge has actually declined since the decimation of England’s grammar schools in the 60s and 70s” is a common one, in this case made by Toby Young. Michael Portillo made the same suggestion on an edition of the This Week TV programme in 2013

The House of Common Library has analysed this question in papers titled “Oxbridge Elitism”, the most recent published in June 2014. It found that the proportion of state pupils at either Oxford or Cambridge was 26% in 1959 and 37% in 1964. This rose to 43% in the early 1970s, when the majority of students would still have taken the 11+. By 1981, when two thirds of students overall would have started in comprehensive schools, it jumped to 52%. In 2012 the Telegraph reported that 55% of admissions at Oxford and 66% at Cambridge were now from state schools, though the Cambridge figure did slip in 2013.

Fact: The proportion of Oxbridge students from state schools is now at an all-time high.

Myth 8: Grammars schools are better than comprehensives today in getting students into Oxbridge

The 2011 Sutton Trust report “Degrees of Success: University Chances by Individual School” suggests that at that time, 85% of state school Oxbridge entries came from comprehensive schools. It comments: “Given their selective intake, grammar schools would appear to be under-represented among the most successful schools for Oxbridge entry “

(The 85% figure is based on Sutton Trust reporting 0.8% of comprehensive students and 3.4% of grammar school students get to Oxbridge. This was applied to the latest Year 11 figures of 536,000 students at comprehensives and 23,000 at selective schools.)

[One reader pointed out that 3.4% is greater than 0.8%. This is clearly true. The Sutton Trust argument is that grammar schools contain only those students at the top of the academic scale - from the top 25% in selective areas to the top 10% in Birmingham or the top 1% or 2% in some areas - and thus would be expected to have a far higher % getting into Oxbridge.]

Fact: The vast majority of state school educated Oxbridge students are from comprehensives and grammar school students appear to be actually under-represented at these universities.

Myth 9: Disadvantaged students do better where there are grammar schools

Christopher Cook, while at the Financial Times, gained unique access to student level data for the entire country for 2011. Creating an area called "Selectivia", made up of the larger and more distinct authorities where parents were unlikely to skip across boundaries - Kent, Lincolnshire, Medway and Buckinghamhire, he compared achievement in selective areas to those overall.

“You can see that poor children do dramatically worse in selective areas”, notes Chris Cook. “There is an idea out there in the ether that grammar schools are better for propelling poor children to the very top of the tree. But, again, that is not true. Poor children are less likely to score very highly at GCSE in grammar areas than the rest."

He found that, for the very richest in society, there was a benefit to attending grammar schools. Those in the top 5% by income did better than those in non-selective areas. However those in the bottom 50% for income did, overall, worse in selective areas.

[See more on this from Chris Cook, now on Newsnight, here]

Fact: Selective education systems benefit the 5% of students from the most well-off backgrounds.but harm the 50% from the poorest backgrounds.

Myth 10: Selective areas perform better than non-selective areas

Conservative MP Graham Brady found evidence that the best performing local authorities had at least one grammar school in them: “Seven of the top ten LEAs at GCSE also had grammar school places available to some or all of their pupils.”

However eight of the top ten LEAs, in terms of the ability of students entering their schools at age 11, are in selective areas. The question isn’t why seven of the top ten GCSE results are in selective areas but why it has slipped from the eight that were in the top ten at age 11. (Source: DfE data)

There are two reasons for this: One is that selective areas tend to be more affluent, which is still linked to higher school achievement. Secondly grammar schools attract more academic students from outside their area. In Reading, for example, 74% of grammar school students live outside the LEA. (Source: FOI enquiry). As Chris Cook found, only the richest 5% of students do better in selective areas. Those from the 50% of less wealthy households do worse.

Fact: Any extra performance of selective areas is fully explained by the level of ability shown at age 11 rather than by the value added by the secondary schools.

Myth 11: The eleven-plus test has no permanent effect on those failing it

One Kent primary headteacher told me that the hardest part of his year is when he has to tell his Year 6 pupils the results of their eleven-plus. "However you phrase it, it is heartbreaking to see the effect on those, the majority of my pupils, who have not passed."

One writer describes taking the eleven-plus after two years of sitting “countless practice papers”. “I was only 10 years old but I was convinced that the duration of my life would evolve around my result in this test.” He failed and writes about how his friends taunted him and others: “They had got into Grammar school and I had not, I was a failure and they were a success. This was the attitude I took with me into secondary school, and this was the attitude I had for years after my eleven plus.”

A friend of mine told me how her mum, now over 60, still feels she is stupid as a result of failing her 11-plus. Research by Love to Learn, a website offering courses for those aged over 50, found that this effect is common. Of those who failed the eleven-plus, over one in three said they still “lacked the confidence” to undertake further education and training courses, while one in eight reported that it had “put them off learning for life”. Almost half reported that they still carried negative feelings with them into their fifties, sixties and beyond.

More information

For more information please check out School Myths by Melissa Benn and Janet Downs, including a chapter on comprehensive schools.

And do visit Comprehensive Future, for a wealth of information about comprehensives.

Contact for press enquires: Henry Stewart (07870 682442)

Thursday, 13 April 2017

3 education 'stories' not covered by the mass media

The three 'stories' that we hear of very little in the mainstream media are:

a) the experience of people who went to Secondary Modern Schools
b) the experience of working class kids who went to grammar schools and got chucked out before doing O-levels (we keep hearing about the ones who succeeded) and
c) kids from poor backgrounds who went (or go) to comps and who succeed.

(If you want to contribute to a  blog about a) the people who went to Secondary Modern Schools, please go to:

Grammars: they're not coming back because they're 'good'. It's 'social engineering'.

The statistical argument for bringing back grammar schools has been exploded by left, right and centre, by Newsnight, by universities, by everyone.

So why would the Tories insist on bringing them back?

Because they don't care about the statistics or the evidence. This is about social engineering - the very crime that they accused Labour of and which the media lapped up.

This is about changing people's mentality. Exactly as honest Tories say that they destroyed social housing because in their terms it 'bred socialism', they want to complete the job of destroying comprehensive or non-selective education.

They want people - that's kids, parents, teachers, schools - to be pitted against each other in a rat race right from the beginning of our lives. They want us to see ourselves as competition units, fighting each other, not co-operating with each other. They want us to be constantly aware of who's 'better', who's 'worse' in a permanent league table of tests, exams, scores, ratings, 'better' and 'worse' schools to go to. They want us to be in a permanent state of being segregated along social, cultural, and economic lines.

So, they don't give a stuff as to whether grammar schools will 'help' some 'poor people' or not. Even Newsnight has shown this objective is bogus. If they (or any other government) was serious about changing whether people's chances in a capitalist society depended a bit more on merit than it is now, they would abolish private education, inherited wealth and tax havens. Of course they're not going to do that, because they don't really believe in chances based on merit. That's just bogus.

This is about social engineering. The media love that phrase when it can be thrown at Labour. They won't touch it when it comes to grammar schools. You won't see the media stuffing microphones into Tories' faces saying, 'So the statistics don't add up, you must be doing it for ideological reasons...grammars - it's all about social engineering, isn't it?'

Monday, 10 April 2017

Poem: Citizens of Nowhere

We may not have an anthem

we may not have a flag
we are the world of
people who move,
people who move on

we are called migrants
immigrants, refugees, asylum seekers,
stateless, no papers,
on the run...
we are, they say, a diaspora
we are, they say, between cultures
or a mosaic of cultures
sometimes we are, they say,
rootless cosmopolitans
or citizens of nowhere

sometimes they say
or we say
we are in exile
but that asks us to imagine we are spending all our time
looking back over our shoulder

we are
supposedly in a limbo
lacking something
that everyone else has got
and the only solution is for us to join in the anthem
and grab the flag
only then will we become the real deal:
a full human being

up until then they say we are divided, split people
people who are less than whole
just hanging, suspended
in a state of longing for what’s been before
and longing for something here
that we can’t ever have
no matter how hard we try

but there’s no need to try:
this ‘true state of being’
that can only be true
when it’s a Not-migrant, Not-immigrant
state of being that we have to long for,

we can say we are the travellers and movers
the sometime settlers,
the migrants, the immigrants,
the diasporas,
we exist
we live, we work,
we eat, we breathe
we may look after others
we may be looked after
we may find love
love may find us
but we don’t need shame
we don’t need guilt
we don’t need to hide
we don’t need to apologise
we don’t need to beg or grovel

we are the world of
people who travel
we are people who leave
people who move,
people who arrive
Yes we can say
we have arrived
but we may leave again
and arrive again
you cannot sum us up
as purely of one place
simply because we are in that place
your snapshot of us may say
we are here
it may say we are there
here or there
there or here
but in a life
we might be both here AND there.
in a family across generations
parents, grandparents, children
we might be both here AND there
there AND here
and we are not less for being so