Second Lieutenant Walter Tull, seen here in his Tottenham Hotspur kit, killed in action in 1918.
Wednesday night was open night so we brushed our hair and gussied ourselves up a bit. We enjoy showing off to prospective parents and children, excited and worried about the choices they’ll have to make. About 1400 people of all ages came to look at us, which was itself rather exciting. For those who prefer heightened reality we have open house every Tuesday, all year, warts and all. Reality, however, can be subjective: if parents come at break-time do they see a crowd of anxiety-inducing adolescents or do they see what we see – children playing, young people chatting, racing about, occasional fecklessness, refuelling, good humour? How can we paint an accurate picture of what we can do for a person who joins us as a child of 11 and leaves as an adult of 18? What can we offer except confidence that we teach well and take good care of them?
Visitors this week also included a shoal of colleague headteachers and a champion. Sir John Dunford, DfE’s Pupil Premium Champion (that’s champion, as we say in the north-east, but whatever happened to Tsars?). John came to tell us about best practice in spending this money to raise the achievement of children who are likelier to struggle. This is a public good: we would all want to be given a hand if the odds were stacked against us and it would be shocking if we didn’t do that for children. You’ll guess what I think about the money: very welcome, but it replaces money we used to get under another heading. The freedom is also welcome, but freedom in school is a relative thing: spend it how you like, but Ofsted will be all over it like a rash. The champ‘s message, however, was typically sensible and measured. How do we raise achievement for the most vulnerable? By improving teaching. How do we raise achievement for everyone? By improving teaching.
Learners have needs too: an orderly, kind and supporting home: being fed and watered, washed, talked to and well-slept. They need routine and shared laughter, predictability and the occasional excitement. They need direction and increasing freedom, rules to batter themselves against and shared ‘let’s-see-what-happens‘. They need structure and love in the teeth of adolescence. None of this is easy.
Listening to an assembly about Black History Month I thought about Mandela quoting Nehru’s no easy walk to freedom anywhere and the importance of our Tallis habit of persistence. Our best teachers put in the graft to make themselves inspirational and utterly, completely reliable. They work ridiculously long hours and focus on the details that they know will make a difference to learners. Was I pleased with Nicola Morgan’s promise on workload this week? Yes, if it comes true – but we are our own worst enemies. It’ll require schools too to wean themselves off easy answers and flashy solutions to lifelong human issues, or impossible documentation demands. Teachers need to think, to plan and to assess. None of these are easy, and they need to be allowed to get on with it.
Our own community of endurance jogs along. We’ve finished picking over the exam results and adjusted this year’s plans. Year 12 Graphics go to look at street art, the World Marathon runners come second and we’ve made some progress on the art rooms’ floors. Our homework monitoring software is treacherously good. I think about funding. Y8 physics run up and down a lot to think about energy. A young man learns to apologise nicely. It’s World Poetry Day on the theme of the Great War: Dulci et Decorum Est to be in a big comprehensive school.