It’s conference season so I’ve already been to Eastbourne for the Greenwich Heads and tomorrow it’s the Association of School and College Leaders in Birmingham. At Eastbourne we focused on the link between reading and educational disadvantage and what we can do about it. Also staff wellbeing – for reasons I’ve ranted about before - in the hope of keeping our staff, our hair and our sanity.
The ASCL conference has been rocked by the Secretary of State giving backword and pulling out of the programme. This is newsworthy. It will be my 26th time at the great gathering and I can’t remember the last time the SoS didn’t come.
Our illustrious leader, former Headteacher and reading expert Geoff Barton expressed himself more in sorrow than anger:
We are disappointed that Gillian Keegan has decided not to come to our conference. We very much hoped she would use this opportunity to thank school and college leaders for everything they are doing in what is proving to be yet another extremely challenging year. It would also have been a good opportunity for her to set out her vision for education, to talk about how we can work together to shape a better future for all young people, and say something about how the government intends to address the teacher recruitment and retention crisis which is at the heart of the current industrial dispute and which our members have to deal with every day. But nevertheless we will continue to engage with the Secretary of State positively and constructively and look forward to a time when she will feel more able to talk directly to our members.
Back at freezing Tallis, much afoot. We’re talking with good folks who fancy governing. They express an interest to the Chair for which they’re rewarded with a visit and, special gift, a conducted tour with year 9. These youth fling themselves into the task, devising long routes and answering questions freestyle and at length. Today’s visitor got the full service, including being taken to places with which the guides were unfamiliar. ‘What happens in these rooms?’ ‘We don’t know’. I’m hoping this was, perhaps, the sixth form silent study area rather than the boiler house.
And on Wednesday, year 13 parents’ evening, the final countdown. We made some innovative changes to the distribution of teachers which confused everyone, especially the most experienced. Someone still complimented me on our efficiency, which was perhaps an aggregated kindness. I’m thinking now about something to mark this passage, the end of some 2-year but many 7-year relationships. The commitment of your beloved child to a neighbourhood school that you support and value – with eyes open to our limitations and alarums - is a social action that builds up the common good. We can’t afford to have medals struck, but we might run to a card.
Which brings me to Community Day today, where the whole school thinks about a theme.
Using and strengthening local and community links is one of the aspects of our School Plan so today we’re all thinking about A Sense of Place, about being formed by, and our relationship with a particular area. This we merge with aspects of the history of Greenwich and our immediate locality to give us all a better understanding. So many young people without cash or confidence to spare rarely stray from their immediate locality. It’s the same in London as on the estates of the north and the bus-deprived rural villages. We try our best to help them live on a larger map, but seeking richness and understanding on your doorstep is also valuable and validating.
This is one of the quotations we’re using:
You get a strange feeling when you're about to leave a place, I told him, like you'll not only miss the people you love but you'll miss the person you are now at this time and this place, because you'll never be this way ever again.
There is significant power for change when a community discovers what it cares about. We try constantly to give the best service we can to this place. We know what we stand for and our young citizens tell us what they care about. We listen and we try together.
Which is why I can’t fathom Gillian Keegan’s decision. I don’t know why she won’t go to ACAS. I don’t know why she wants to look as though she doesn’t care. Do we not travel together through this currently rather barren land?
Which brings me back to the title. It’s from a reported conversation with a young person searching for ‘pilgrim’ as the correct term but stuck on, y’know, those small animals, what are they called, penguins? And which are we? Journeying together or frozen out? Stolidly waiting and guarding our young until the storm passes? We need our community around us for that. Thank you.