It's not the first time we’ve ever done these assemblies, but the echoes of Covid ring loud and long. While I was listening to the end of Ms taking leave of her year group, I was transported back two years, to a hastily-cobbled-together assembly in March 2020 to say goodbye to year 11 because lockdown was beginning and school was closing, suddenly. I felt quite queasy.
The day itself isn’t like leavers’ days of old. We don’t do lengthy study leave any more and this one was put in to mark the transition from the ordinary timetable to the exam prep sessions adjacent to the big days. The very do itself today abutted the first external exam just after lunchtime. Timing was key but the gods of Friday 13th will have their fun and we had a total AV and IT collapse at the very assembly when slideshows and photomontages with emotional soundtracks are de rigeur. Doughty Ms and her team had to busk while technicians of all kinds clustered around and eventually a trolley, like a mobile ICU, was rushed in. The careful dovetailing - getting Year 11 out so Year 13 can get in – all went to pot. I intervened and moved the boundaries. Everyone was supportive. Children of all ages and sizes had a lovely time. See you on Monday, exams are upon us.
Today, their tutors praised them and reminisced publicly. Some sang, some rapped, all gave awards – for character, and Goats. Goats were new to me as I don’t mix with sporting types, but it pleases me as an acronym and it worked for the tutors. Greatest Of All Time at….arguing, football, falling off chairs, organising, saying hello to everyone, looking after new people, keeping the peace, being tannoyed for, speaking the truth without fear or favour, looking good…. while Sir and Ms blinked back the tears.
These young people have had such a rocky time. We were interviewed by the BBC for a piece to go out on Monday about the return of exams, so I had seven in the Sports Hall yesterday pretending to sit at exam desks (‘Quick! No! Get tidier ones out!’). They all spoke urbanely and calmly about their preparation and how they’re feeling. Ready, but anxious. Who knew? The Beeb may have wanted something more hysterical, but we’re too cool for that. As the soundtrack to one of the slideshows today said:
Feeling my way through the darkness
Guided by a beating heart
I can't tell where the journey will end
But I know where to start
Today would have been my grandmother’s 121st birthday, but, obviously, she isn’t around to blow out what would be an impressive range of candles. She was a clever girl from a modest background who became a teacher. She used to quote poetry and I think I first heard Masefield’s Epilogue with her Geordie accent. It's not a piece I recite to children because they might think I’m making personal remarks, which we’re stamping out at Tallis. But it’s what I thought of today when I watched six hundred young people emerge from the hall, rubbing their eyes in the sudden sunlight and wondering what will happen next.
I have seen flowers come in stony places
And kind things done by men with ugly faces,
And the gold cup won by the worst horse at the races,
So I trust, too.