On the last day of the year on Planet Tallis we herd the youth into the sports hall for a rousing send-off with bands and uplifting speeches. Such things – what with us not being Silverstone or a night club – are still being frowned on here so we made do with year 10 being live on spaced-out chairs. They’re a pleasant bunch and we reflected on the year together.
This doesn’t involve free discussion, you understand, assemblies are assemblies no matter what, but we did have awards and a couple of bands played. All very nice. We all the tutors said a few words and we made some awards to the most imaginative, disciplined, persistent, inquisitive, collaborative young people, then the most respectful, fair, honest, optimistic and kind. Then the ones who turned up for 100% of the time, with no negative points and full participation in all that life offers here. Then it got a bit complicated. Their Head of Year is on maternity leave, and I’ve just promoted their interim Head of Year to Head of year 7 from September, so the person who’s just stopped being Head of year 12 and is now Director of KS4 Achievement is stepping in until the original HOY comes back in October.
This is the kind of thing you can’t sustain too much of. The reason that stability in school staffing is a prize above rubies is that young people need to feel that the adults around them are in it for the long term, know what they’re doing, are absolutely committed to their jobs and the young people who may need their undivided and expert attention at any moment. Thankfully, attached Sir is a constant force of nature with the team and duly got rapturous applause.
Having a captive audience and time to spare, I gave them the benefit of some of my school experiences. I told them that being as old as the hills, I took the 11+, and benefited from its class bias and random educational attachment to verbal reasoning. That grammar school turned comprehensive in my second year, so 120 of us proceeded up the school on top of a growing ten-form-entry comprehensive. Some of the teachers weren’t quite up to it, some aspects of the building – beautiful in its way – weren’t quite built for it and the rest of my compulsory school experience was characterised by a vague feeling of it being made up as we went along. This is not good for adolescents, who are making up their own lives as they go along and need to be protected by stability, predictability and expertise in school. I said I hoped that there was enough of Tallis to keep them confident, no matter what was happening in the outside world and no matter what bizarre and half-thought instructions we’d been tossed about on this year. And the one before it.
Adults can cope with more of this, and, following my uplifting start last night, I reflected to staff on a hot summer day’s experience nearly forty years ago in Leicestershire. I visited the Cheshire Home at Staunton Harold and talked to an old lady who spoke of Group Captain Cheshire – the WW2 fighter pilot who set up the nationwide homes – as a personal friend, who’d taken an interest in every piece of furniture she’d brought with her. I was moved that, in a large organisation, the vulnerable old people felt a personal bond with the man. It made them feel safer and loved. I thanked staff for that same work they do and that same bound they have with the children, so important through the pandemic, a lifeline for some.
Next door to the home stands a church which I’ve probably bored you with before. Built, almost uniquely, at the start of the Commonwealth in 1653 when church building wasn’t really a thing, it bears this lovely inscription to the man who financed it:
Whose singular praise it is to have done the best things in ye worst times and hoped them in the most callamitous.’
You can’t say fairer than that. We’ve tried our best.