The end of term isn’t just messy but positively hazardous. Time telescopes and things are hard to finish. We vow every year: next summer everything will be ready for the results and the new year, nothing untidily hanging over from the old. We fool ourselves with the myth of after the exams when there’ll be fewer children and time for everything. As it happens, there’re fewer children but mountains of new work and loads of self-inflicted complications. Trips, musicals, visits, writing action research reports, finishing off timetable and staffing bits. Inventing new rules, new brooms, shining light onto dark corners. Remembering that in real time there are very few days between now and September and saying goodbye to those who are moving on.
When the young people go, we have events and age-appropriate parties. Year 11 prom was in a marquee at school, the year 13 party – a cool affair – at the Yacht Club. Staff leavers have speeches and, this year, a barbecue in the yard after school, a nice idea from a devoted soul.Like many schools we unusually have a lot of leavers this year. Budgets are falling and staffing reduced, so voluntary redundancy’s offered. The process is painful: some go happily and others sadly, but they each leave a hole. When teachers leave there’s a dramatic cut-off point. By May half term we know what’s what and the word is out because they’ve had to be replaced. When support staff go it’s all much quieter.
For those who systematise our lives the summer term is madness. Admissions hot up, September’s organisation needs to be ready to go and the building gussied up. We’ve had a bit of trouble (a Fundamental British Understatement) with our drains, and that’s not easily remedied with people cluttering up the place and needing to go to the loo. Painting needs doing. And when the holiday starts, teachers make random appearances to catch up with stuff, look for things, tidy rooms, mark books, prepare lessons, stare into space and badger administrators who are trying very hard to keep the world turning.
We marked something of that this week when we rededicated a blue plaque remembering linguists trained at RAF Kidbrooke until 1953. These young people were immersed in the languages of the Cold War then embedded behind the Iron Curtain. We had some veterans and an Air Commodore, and we spoke to them in 14 languages and explained the history to the great and the good, followed by lunch (good training in small talk), thanks and promises to keep in touch.
And last week was We Will Rock You, a showcase for young people finding their voices and learning how to perform. It was slick, funny, tight and happy and, like our daily lives, the visible manifestation of countless nights of rehearsal and days of encouragement. Thank you to the teachers and support staff who made it happen and the children who made us sing and laugh – and cry, because we’re old.
So my biggest worry at this time of year is forgetting the people who hold our world together. The managers, personal assistants, organisers, administrators, technicians, librarians and para-professionals who make it possible for us to be flashy, confident, inspirational and reliable but who don’t often get to take a bow. I like nothing better than a captive audience and the sound of my own voice but I fear the goodbye speeches in case I forget anyone or say something egregiously crass. The only reason I don’t is because someone buys the cards, puts them into my hand, passes me the flowers, organises the catering, opens the bottles and mollifies the offended. What am I meant to do if it’s that person who’s going? Fend for myself like a big girl and say thank you from the bottom of my heart to the invisible navigators who help us steer the ship into harbour after the year at sea.
Support staff know that life is a messy business and structure, routine, kindness and understanding are essential in adolescent storms. They’re handy with the loo roll, the spreadsheet, the diary and the telephone. Like the best of us, they love the child in the moment and never underestimate what they can become, and they work damn hard to change the world for the better.