Back to school on Monday, starting off with two teacher days before the kids return.
Teacher days are always a mixture of the enjoyable (seeing your colleagues again, and if you’re lucky one or more of the training sessions) and the rather less than exciting routine (all the beginning of year admin, the obligatory trainings we have to do each year on epipens/recognising asthma symptoms etc). There’s always a fair bit of discussion of GCSE and A-level results both informally (amazement and delight (or sometimes dismay) at how individuals have done) and formally (looking at the data). On Tuesday, sixth-formers who want to change their AS options will be in to see relevant heads of department (“well yes, I know I said I never wanted to see a physics book again, but now I’ve got an A* in it…”) and then check with my timetabling colleague and me whether their desired exotic combination of subjects is actually possible.
But we’ve got a really big change – a new Head. We’re all going to be a bit nervous about this to say the least. Not that we have any reason to think badly of her – she seemed perfectly pleasant when I met her – but it’s always potentially a huge change for a school.
Now I can’t let the retirement of our previous Head go without comment (even though she’s now following this blog and it might embarrass her!).
There’s no doubt at all in my mind that her personal vision of what education is, and how we should treat each other, have had an enormous amount to do with making the school the place it is. Her non-hierarchical, flexible and open-minded approach, respect for and interest in the individual and openness to suggestions and discussion made her great to work for, and produced an excellent atmosphere within the school where in return for trust in their professionalism, colleagues would almost always go the extra mile. Her readiness to take pupils as individuals in all their complexity, and to believe in their potential both academically and as human beings, helped them to feel valued for who they were, and to be secure and comfortable emotionally at school, and to develop as people, not just intellectually. Of course this sort of thing is not just down to the woman or man at the top – we’re all involved – but leading by example is much more powerful than just talking the talk, and sets the tone for the crucial teacher-pupil relationship.
Equally importantly, she stood firm against an instrumentalist approach to education, and unashamedly promoted learning for its own sake, encouraging pupils to go beyond what they needed for their grades and discover the joy of intellectual curiosity. Believing in developing a rounded individual wasn’t just lip-service either, as it often is – achievements (or enthusiastic participation) in dance, drama, music, creative writing, sport, debating, charity work – you name it! – were always celebrated. And while of course she wanted us to shine in the league tables (what Head wouldn’t?), concern for the individual was always paramount, and relatively modest achievements that were a triumph for the pupil concerned valued every bit as much as headline-grabbing strings of A* grades.
So, as I said, I’m a bit nervous. Wouldn’t you be? Keep your fingers crossed for us !