Year 11 had a nasty shock in December with mock exams based on what the new GCSEs will look like. You understand that I’m talking about maths and English here, where A*-G is being replaced by 9-1 and no one really knows what's going to happen. Well, year 11 do. They had a look at a maths paper produced by the exam board and it had given them pause for thought. Revision sessions were popular this week. Perhaps we’ll even offer biscuits. We hand out the mock results in a mock-August manner early next week, in the hope of focusing the mind of those who lack imagination about how they might feel on the actual day. It works for some, but for others 8 months is an eternal sort of time, even 5 months to the exams is unfathomable, like the age of the earth or the distance to Jupiter. One pleasant sort of chap told me he’d not done much revision because he wanted to find out how well he’d do without it. He knows now. Resolutions all round.
Just as well the young ones aren’t in charge of the institution (for all sorts of reasons, really). They’re easily distracted and very much concerned with the interior of others’ heads and phones, rather than devoting themselves to defeating the examiners. As I heard one remark to another ‘Yes, but you’re just trying to impress Ellen’. Has she noticed?
I go upstairs to take issue with year 9, the awkward squad of any school. This particular bunch of comedians was inhospitable to a visiting teacher and will be mending their ways. Some get to spend extra time reflecting on their manners. At lunchtime the dining room’s overcrowded because of the rain and there’s some huffing. I see some of them later, the huffers and ill-mannered, in punctuality detention. Every term the same, we re-embed the rules with those whose lives mean they forget them over unstructured holidays. Every term’s a new year.
And I make a hash of having a new idea and in fine cart-before-horsing put out a proposal without any time to discuss it or refine it. It’s not Machiavellian, just inept, so I press pause and give us all time to think. There’s a lot going on and just because the government change everything every year until our heads are spinning doesn’t mean that we should do it in school. There’s always time to think. Well, nearly always, and when there isn’t, you’d better be pretty experienced at making snap decisions. I am pretty experienced, but still spooked this week by a combination of budget reduction, accountability measures, assessment and curriculum change.
But I enjoyed a few minutes this morning watching a new teacher talking to an old stager across the yard. I couldn’t hear them but the hand gestures were magnificent. If they were devising an entirely new language, its one I want to learn. We can add it to the gestures we already use in school such as ‘take your coat off’ (plucking your own shoulder), ‘get in a line’ (a sort of repeated flapping motion) and ‘Really? Would you like to reconsider that action?’ (hands thrust outwards combined with a Gallic shrug, outraged eyebrows and goggly eyes, try it at home). All those being ones teachers have to avoid using when out and about among the populace in the holidays and at weekends, for fear of being incarcerated.
I think the latter gesture would work well for the West Sussex Heads, the unlikely shock troops of the Reasonable and Exasperated Tendency, as they take on the Department over the money issue. How are we to make the books balance? Employ fewer teachers for more students? Close for half a day? Turn the heating off? Stop doing all the things that have made such a difference to vulnerable children’s lives over the last 15 years? Altogether now: shall we reconsider?
I gesture at the weather as the sun suddenly goes in as we approach break. Snow. Really?