Children's writer has strong views on education

INTERNATIONAL Children's Book Day is celebrated next week, on April 2. In this week's Face to Face interview Alex Hurrell meets children's writer David Mason who has passionate views about the current education system and teaches his own large family at home in North Walsham.

INTERNATIONAL Children's Book Day is celebrated next week, on April 2. In this week's Face to Face interview Alex Hurrell meets children's writer David Mason who has passionate views about the current education system and teaches his own large family at home in North Walsham.

READING poetry to an audience of 300 teenage pupils would be the stuff of nightmares to a large section of the adult population.

But it's how poet, author, chef, and family man David Mason has spent much of his working life for the past decade.

David has so far had 13 books published. His latest children's novel, Midnight Mystery, an adventure set on Majorca, is widely used in schools and its two sequels are in the final stages of pre-publication.

His vocation, aiming to inspire and enthuse children aged three to 18, takes him to primary and high schools throughout England and this year, for the first time, to classrooms in Spain.

Most Read

David, 49, doesn't just 'read' poetry - he gives of his best; throwing body and soul into the performance, usually ending the day exhausted as a result.

It's a working life which gives authority to his heartfelt views about the shortcomings of the National Curriculum which he says: 'needs to be abolished, together with league tables and SATS'.

He believes he has a gift for engaging children and feels strongly that nurturing a child's particular talents, encouraging them to work independently and helping them to achieve their best is what education should be about.

'Instead children are being taught to pass exams and it's a system which engenders indifference in them,' he said. 'Teachers are under pressure - 80pc of their cohort must reach Level 4, or whatever, and they spoon-feed pupils to ensure it happens. It creates dependency, kills creativity and it's getting worse, especially in high schools.

'Rates of illiteracy are up because children at the bottom of the academic levels are finding at an early age that they are failing these National Curriculum standards so they lose confidence in themselves and they lose interest in learning. Exposing children's weaknesses - what kind of an education is that?

'Each new government initiative is just putting a sticking plaster over a problem which needs radical surgery.'

Born in Coventry, David had a natural flair for creative writing at school but books weren't a part of his home life and he lacked a wide vocabulary to develop his talents.

'When I reached 16 I felt terribly ignorant and thought I better get out there and read more books,' he recalled. 'It began with Animal Farm - the book in one hand and a dictionary in the other - and I went from there to works by authors like Steinbeck, Kafka and Hesse.'

He moved to his parents' native Norfolk in 1992 and opened the Alfresco restaurant in Ludham, writing during the winter months when it was closed.

In 2000, with four books published, David hung up his chef's hat and began taking his creative talents in to schools.

He and his wife Helen chose to educate their own six children, now aged six to 19, at home and say it's a system which works 'fantastically well.'

They dedicate about an hour each day to the task, virtually every day of the year, including during the 15 weeks a year spent travelling Europe in a motor home, giving David time and stimulus to write, and broadening the children's horizons.

David says he used to make excuses when people asked whether he worried that his children were missing out on mixing with their peers in school.

Now he's more prepared to argue that actually it's those children in schools who are missing out. While many of them only mix with their peer groups, his children have the self confidence to get on with everyone.

* See David's website at:

What's the best thing about your job?

'Producing a poem or story that someone will enjoy reading.'

… and the worst?

'The frustration of wanting to change a system that I can see is failing, but not being able to do so.'

Favourite book, film, TV/radio programme?

Book: The Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck). Film: Il Postino. Radio: I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue (BBC Radio 4).

Favourite place in Norfolk?

West Runton beach and woods.

Which one song or piece of music would you have to take with you to a desert island?

'Rock and Roll - Led Zeppelin.'

Describe yourself in three words.

'Passionate, charismatic and empathetic - I don't mean to sound boastful!'

Tescos in north Norfolk towns. Yes or no?

'Definitely, definitely 'no'. They destroy the local community. If I was running a supermarket it would be a co-operative where profits were shared among the workers. We don't need shareholders.'

In what other era would you like to have lived?

'Although it was a struggle, I think in immediately post-war Britain. People were materially poor but spiritually very rich - we had the new NHS and no computers!'

Pet hates?

'Celebrities, and politicians who aren't true to themselves.'

What do you eat for a treat?

'A snack bar from my favourite North Walsham health food shop. My wife calls me the 'food police' because apparently I'm obsessed with healthy eating.'

Most over-used word or expression.

'I'm not being funny, but…'

What have your parents given you?

'Great budgeting skills so that I don't get into problems with money which means I can maximise my freedom. They were also good disciplinarians and set a good example of working hard.'

Name a hero/heroine.

'Nelson Mandela.'

What would you like to do when you retire?

'Get involved with work to help poorer people in the developing world.'

Global warming - myth or reality?



'I'm very fussy about having good quality coffee and take my own cafeti�re into schools.'

How do you relax?

Sitting in front of the fire with my family, listening to music, or exercising - swimming, the gym, football, tennis; I do all of them.'