Decorating a Christmas tree collaboratively in a large comprehensive school takes imagination and military planning. Fortunately Head of Year 13 has the former, Head’s PA the latter and the premises staff stepladders and patience. Thomas Tallis now has a pair of large trees embellished with about 1800 matching red parcel tags with messages from the community small and large. (My own contribution was attaching a tag to myself for Monday morning’s staff briefing in what I felt was a suitably dignified manner pour encourager les autres.)
The red tag messages are a warm and cheerful combination of Merry Christmases, quotations from songs, generalised good wishes and hopeful if misdirected late requests to Santa. Lots of tags wish people happy times at home which gives one pause for thought. Some young people hate school holidays and dread their approach, missing the love and structure they find in school, and Christmas is especially hard for them. There are lots of tags for peace on earth, about which young people feel particularly strongly. Some of those are combined with thoughts about Nelson Mandela who we’ve talked about a lot this week. There are few world statesmen, and children should know the history that surrounded him and remember that his death was important enough to be marked at school.
We’ve worked very hard in schools for years now to know everything we possibly can about every child’s skills and achievements. We have data enough to submerge us and acronyms sufficient to launch a new language. But my second pause for thought of the week related to the dreaded PISA. There’s some evidence, apparently, that more successful countries know less about individual children than we do and therefore expect more of all of them. This is really interesting: do we serve our young people better by knowing their ability inside out or by not knowing them? Do we expect the inevitable or plan to avoid it? Our schools have always been built on care for the whole child but does detailed achievement data free us to help them more or less? No doubt OFSTED will tell me what to think.
So, here’s to the red tree, the less bad New Year and confounding the inevitable. May all your Christmas trees be covered with cheery messages and if a ball pool or a slide would improve your workplace, consider them. If you know any children, get them to write you a message for your Christmas tree. You’ll see that nothing is inevitable to them until we make it so.