Joseph Mallord William Turner Ship in a Storm c.1823–6
Events, dear things, events. What to make of them? Last Friday we had a day in which three of our governors talked for five hours with some young people who find school behaviour norms unbearably irksome, counselling them to do better. Monday we had the Smoothie Bike chefs creating nutritious snacks by the sheer power of the bicycle. They’re back next Monday.
Tuesday was Remembrance. Regular readers remember the digger man who joined our silence last year. Emboldened by success and in the name of preparing young Tallis for adult life, we decided this year’s silence should be in the heart of our community on the concourse, more usually a venue for hugging, arguing and standing about. An energetic colleague hatched a plan involving miles of red ribbon. Several plans later taking mud, bins, benches, trees and the weather forecast (he’s a geographer) into consideration we decided trust and freedom were the answer. So we stopped organising, hired a trumpeter, talked about it in assemblies and blew a whistle just before 11. Silence fell on a busy yard and canteen, everything stopped. The Last Post played for a sublime and serious silence in the heart of SE3.
That night we had Tallis Strings with Michael Bochmann of Trinity Laban. He’s been with us courtesy of Clifford Chance to give some of year 7s a taste of the violin so that, playing alongside teachers and world-class Michael they experienced the joys of music and the ensemble. At a wonderful concert for family and friends one new player said to me "It is quite hard. The strings are really close together."
Wednesday we had workshops with a Danish colleague from the Kaospilots organisation. Their aim is to equip people to navigate through life’s chaos, and who wouldn’t want help with that? We’re using them to help think about Tallis Character to complement our Habits so that our young people may navigate whatever choppy waters are ahead for them.
We met in the evening to set up a new PTA-type organisation. 20 parent volunteers and a plate of school cakes, high hopes for partnership and a bit of fun. I heard the call of the first mince pie of the season. Thursday was post-16 Open Evening with hundreds coming to find out about how to get a hot ticket to adult life. Much praise for our vibrancy but also the precision of our advice. Young people are rightly much more demanding and together about what they want from the future. Those of us who lurched from one thing to another in the 70s are from another era altogether.
I’m reminded of a chance overhearing at the final celebrations of Black History Month in October. We had a lovely day and replaced the lesson change signal with startling music, generating a little dancing in the corridors. I heard a chap ask his chum ‘Is that coming through the pips machine?’ as if we have an Orwellian squirting device to move us in Pavlovian fashion or direct our every thought.
Would it help them steer through events if we did? It’s easy to write rules but hard to keep them, as the young people in front of the governors admit. It’s easy to watch a foreign correspondent but hard to contemplate being one. It’s lovely to hear a virtuoso but hard to be one, what with the strings being so close together and all. It’s good to drink a smoothie but hard to produce one by cycling.
Our daily life is a mixture of planned and unplanned events, challenges and opportunities. It is really hard to measure what schools do in any but the most obvious ways. We aim for education to change the world, but the world can be unpredictable, hostile and dangerous as well as exciting and interesting. That’s why we take character and habits so seriously. We want to know what best will help our young people navigate through the choppy waters of freedom and trust so they know when to be still for remembrance and when to dance to the pips.