Cultural notes 1: we had Radio 3 and the BBC Concert Orchestra live from Tallis launching the 10 Pieces secondary project. 21 young people played with the orchestra and the jazz group did their cool stuff. Potential highlight of the year and it's only October? Notes 2: theatre lovers are too late to go see Rob Brydon in Future Conditional at the Old Vic, remarkable because it doesn't put a foot wrong about education. Admissions, snobbery, state v private, teacher workload, culture and learning all covered sensibly. There's a wonderful section where teacher Brydon is compelled to write an apology to a parent and muses aloud about what he's sorry for. Sorry about the mother's life and the failure of hopes and dreams, sorry about the state of the world and the injustices of society, sorry about what a child seems doomed to turn into.
The letters were wonderful. Deep and specific. Guilt was confessed and forgiveness begged. All apologised unreservedly. Several wrote about letting the school down and one pleaded that our august institution wouldn't be judged by 'this tragedy'. We corrected the spelling and posted them. Sorry.
Apology is one end of accountability. Sometimes things go wrong despite our best efforts. Sorry it didn't work, sorry we did one thing and not another, sorry we made a choice that turned out to be wrong. Sorry we couldn't make something happen, sorry we ran out of money. Sorry doesn't put it right, but it oils the wheels of forward progress. And it can unnerve. Passing through the lunch queue last week I bumped into (sorry) a year 11 character and asked how she was. "Oh, you know, tired cold hungry stressed out, all of the above." I apologised and she had to laugh. "You're not going to do anything about it, though, are you?" I told her she'd feel better after lunch and that she should keep me informed. She said she liked hearing northern people talking, so I laughed too. Tired cold hungry is sorted out by a school dinner, and the stress might be a good thing depending on the work rate of the youth under advisement. But I'm sorry if its bad stress and I'm sorry if the system doesn't allow you to make mistakes and ends up commodifying you by unpredictable exam results. I note that when we had 31 GCSE results in one subject upgraded by re-mark no one apologised to us or the children.
Back on the history walk, we had a whale of a time. An ancient philanthropic foundation, First World War shelling, Second World War shrapnel, Saxon mounds, Henry 8th and a brief history of time at the meridian. I brought up the rear so kind souls dropped back to keep me company. One has an ingrowing toenail, another's brother is frightened of squirrels. One used the walk as a recruitment event for scouting "We sleep in tents! We make our own meals! We crawl through mud!" One's worried about his Nan and another's Dad's a window cleaner (a cold job). Some didn't have jumpers on, some were equipped to accompany Fiennes to the pole. We dawdled and rushed as required and were sheepdogged by an irrepressible Head of Department. We rather swamped a bus but gave up our seats and got in everyone's way. Sorry for being young and foolish, cheerful and mildly ridiculous.
Back in class, I finish the lesson with The News. What's going on, people? Someone said: black people are 3 times as likely to be tasered as white. A parent's opinion was proffered but that didn't satisfy us. I won't quickly forget the anxious and bewildered looks on children's faces as we failed to resolve it. I'm sorry that's the news.
And I'm sorry that the other news is about grammar schools. Sorry that David Willets' magisterial 2007 speech on the "overwhelming evidence that academic selection entrenches advantage, it does not spread it" is (in his own words) like light from a dead star. Sorry that other schools will have to deal with the anxious and bewildered self-reproach of failed poor 11 year olds. Sorry we prefer prejudice to evidence.