Yea, even unto week 14 and in these last two weeks, mock GCSEs. The new exams have a lot of stuff in them and year 11 looked distinctly queasy by Wednesday. We teach them the right behaviour for the task so lining up in the canteen, ushering upstairs in silence to the be-desked Sports Hall, shushed by Sir on the landing, Miss on the stairs, Sir at the door. And me, hassling thoughtlessly raucous small inmates: ‘Stand aside! These people are going to an exam!’ as if they were slightly bemused gods progressing to a test on Mount Olympus. Anyway, its back to basketball in the big space now, until we gather as a whole village on Wednesday for the Christmas Assembly.
Likewise the Gallery, a much-used space. Exams this week, governors’ meetings, anti-Gangs work and a visit from a team of researchers at the British Museum interspersed by tetchiness ‘who left the tables like this?’. And the hall: exams, staff briefing, assembly, and tonight the Christmas show Tallis in the Woods. Spaces have specific meaning in schools but flexible spaces are where we train our young for the unpredictability of the outside world. This is what’s expected, these are the conventions, don’t worry about how to behave, we’ll teach you to be secure so we can teach you to be confident. That being said, in the last staff briefing of 2017 I amused myself gathering views through the medium of head shaking and nodding. Funnier for me than them, I said. Sorry.
‘Something Christmassy?’ requested Heads of Year 7 and 8 so I was away. Having watched Cressida Dick on the news, I was impressed by the quantity and inventiveness of her hand gestures even when sitting with a select committee. So we gathered in the Sports Hall, I waved my arms about a lot and got 540 11-13 year olds to think about the shape of the school year, festivals of light, nativity plays in their past and how all the characters in the ancient story behave unexpectedly. I asked them which parts they’d played and then had to stretch my interpretation to cover ‘trees’ and ‘bales of hay’, let alone donkeys. Bales of hay? That’s a primary school with more actors than useful parts.
Something Christmassy in maths too this week. Venn diagrams: what’s warm, what’s festive, what’s made of fruit? Lee was away with dreams of a warm mince pie: Tommy trying to persuade Sir that turkey is fruit-based. What falls outside the circles? Shoes! Dogs! Another maths lesson, another set of sets (vets’ clients) and Mario’s howl ‘I’m having trouble with the dogs’. We teach children to categorise and analyse so they can contain the world in their heads, but sometimes stuff doesn’t fit and we need to find a way through uncertainty.
Which is why herself had to forage in the archives for a new box of hankies. My room has multiple uses too: meetings, interviews, book looks, arguments, crises, exasperations and the imponderables of human life. Hankies provided, if we can find a new box. I’m writing our Christmas cards today. No winsome drawings of robins and Santa by a perky year 7 for us. Christmas is about a baby, the only character who behaves as expected in the nativity play, the eternal symbol of hope. Our card this year is another lovely sixth form portrait of a young person, and a line from Eglantyne Jebb whose work founded Save the Children: all wars are wars against children.
So as their government forget to count the Rohingya refugee children we look on the clear-eyed face of a girl and try to think about a better future. Tallis in the Woods combined all sorts of music, dance, film and drama with Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk and a mystery demon caretaker in an anarchic feast of harmony and wit. As the song says, how do you measure a year? 525 600 minutes? We measure it by hours, lessons, breaks, queues, jokes, plays, trips, events, detentions, quiet, nudging, scuffling and forests of hands up. It’s a training for life until they’re old enough to put it behind them and change the world for the better. Who says that won’t require dancing?