This Friday I saw a school show. Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of school shows. Some of them have been, quite frankly, diabolical snooze-fests. Others, mostly thanks to the troublingly brilliant mind of @chrishildrew, have been West-end-worthy panaceas to the monotony of modern life: three children dressed as sperm and a talking cabbage called Margaret spring to mind. And yet, this school show will be the one that I remember.
After 21 years at his school, first as Deputy Head and then Head teacher, my dad is hanging up the symbolic mortar board and putting to bed a career in education that has spanned 37 years. With the final day before Easter being his last, this school show marked the beginning of the end of my family’s relationship – I use that word advisedly - with his school.
But, to set the night in context, a little background.
On the day my dad arrived at his school for interview, a burnt out car adorned the drive way and they were celebrating exam results that had for the first time exceeded 20% A*-C (a positive revelation given the 15% A*-C of the previous year). I’m immensely pleased to say that, since then, the exam results have somewhat improved, student numbers have almost doubled, they’ve achieved the all-important Ofsted ‘Outstanding’, been used as a model of good practice for Literacy and added a highly successful Sixth Form and sports centre – not to mention welcoming pigs, chickens, a bee hive and orchard.
In this time there have only ever been two Heads - something I suspect is an increasing rarity. However, make no mistake, the achievements of this very special place have been down to the collective loyalty, hard work and dedication of an entire staff body only some of which, I know, I am aware of.
For my own part, this place has been a member of the family. It perhaps helped that my mum also worked there as first a Science and then RE teacher so, when I was sick, I would go and help out in the Science prep room or sit at the back of her classes. Eventually, when I started to wonder what my own career path should be, I found myself there doing work experience and then, a year later when qualified, supply teaching. But, whilst these matters of physical proximity meant the school was somewhere I frequently was, it was the days spent helping out painting classrooms and putting up backing paper that turned it into something more than that. The message loud and clear from my parents was that this was a place to lavish attention on, to take pride in – that was fundamentally worthy of your time and attention.
And it was those feelings of pride and high expectation that I saw so plainly on the night of the school show.
In the opening number, the cast of over 100 young people marched forward towards the audience, utterly fearlessly. The melody of their voices sang of confidence and joy in being part of such a marvellous spectacle. The effect was not only hugely impressive but, quite frankly, a kick in the nether regions to Ofsted who had visited in the weeks previously. However, amongst the impressive noise it was a whisper in my ear that I was most aware of: “She’s just joined our Sixth Form to do A Level Dance.” Two minutes later: “Hers is the Design coursework I showed you before.” 30 seconds: “He used to be so naughty!”
On my dad’s face was sheer, unadulterated pride – and, dare I say, love – for each and every young person on that stage. And I know that this is going to be the feeling that is retained when he walks out of his office on April 4th. Not the exhaustion. Not the stress. Not fatalistic flight paths. Not 3LP. Or, 4LP. Not the frustration at steadily disintegrating national systems and politically-motivated external pressures that make it increasingly difficult to remember that all that matters is children. Young lives with exciting futures of endless possibilities.
As I left the show that evening, arm in arm with the man I am immensely proud to call my father, the following maxim danced inside my mind: a life in education is a life well lived.