For some year 11s, however, mock results bring an outbreak of self-justification, soul-searching and sudden insights. They tell you how little or how much work they did for the mocks, the blinding flash of light it has shone on the last four-and-a-half years and exactly how different a person they are going to be hereon in. ‘Of course the thing about the mocks……’ they begin, having taken them once and never again, and as if their teachers could do with some contextual advice.
That’s fine. We learn from experience and mistakes and it is the crowning glory of adolescence to see everything newly minted and focused on the self. January is a good time for self-examination: I used to do that, but now I do this. I used to play on my phone but now I watch GCSE pod. I used to eat chips but now I’m all veg. I used to answer back but now I grit my teeth. As one said to me yesterday, demonstrating the teeth work and the sound effect. I reserve judgement on whether the recipient will find that any less annoying.
Adults too. Those who arrived in September have now got the hang of the place and are starting to offer analyses and suggestions. Old lags watch the year turn once again. Otherwise undemonstrative folks are thrilled by November GCSE resit maths and English results: a perfect example of a mistake made in the past put right at second try, for many. New starters are both perky and chipper, and you can’t ask for more than that. Some make helpful suggestions about the car park, for which I am, of course, grateful. It is our Schleswig-Holstein question. All are bemused by the plumbing problems which best us.
There was a nice piece about Tallis in Schools Week last week. SW is an influential on-line newspaper and they came to look at how we’ve reduced exclusions, in the national context of exclusions rising again. Excludable behaviour is obviously part of the mistake-making of adolescence and, by trial and error, we think we’ve found a better way.
One of the methods we use is restorative meetings. Combatants of all sorts have to meet together to resolve differences and agree a way forward, or just make a proper, personal apology. Ms in charge says ‘twenty minutes’ awkwardness is worth it for a year without awkwardness’. It is the human way.
I had another thought about the human experience on Monday. I set off late to assembly so dived into the viewing gallery at the back, watching proceedings from a bit higher than the back row of the seats. This made for a very different assembly from the ones I usually see from front or side. From there, I get 300 faces and the performer in the stage lights: all very real, and close. From the gallery it’s more like being at the pictures. The back row is a long way from the action and when the Head of Year, Deputy Heads and whoever else has fine words to impart doesn’t stand in the stage lights, you can barely see them. You can see a lot of backs of heads, but those aren’t nearly as friendly as the fronts. I’m thinking about what this means for our messaging, while threatening assembly-givers with a gaffer-tape cross to stand on.
I’m thinking because distance makes for glibness and detachment. Mock exams are years, then months away. That’s like another lifetime to a young person whose revision can start sometime after the next ice age. Maturity is signalled by the sudden realisation that you can SEE May from here and the weeks need a bit of attention. If you’re at the back of assembly, does it make a difference to how much a part of the community you feel?
Which brings me to the inevitable. No, not Ofsted, still no report. Brexit. One of the million problems with Brexit is that it has been approached rather like mock exams. It was once all in the future, so there was plenty time for posturing. Now it’s here, and the revision hasn’t been done, and everyone’s flailing about blaming everyone else and some won’t meet with others. Meanwhile, the world turns and the year moves on. The people get poorer, the public services are neglected and we’re stepping over the homeless in the streets while young people murder one another. And those who caused the mess are so far from the people that they might as well be actors on a distant stage. It’s all very well saying ‘We’ll still be breathing if there isn’t a deal’ but that’s a pretty low bar to set. The good life requires more.
Enough with the self-justification. We need the soul-searching and restorative action, now.