Piercing the gloom
12/2/16: I always say, if asked, that the most difficult months in a school are November and February. I don’t know why I’ve always found this time of year so bleak; perhaps it’s the circadian rhythms and the short days which affect me.
This winter, we’ve weathered more storms with alphabetical names than you can wave a stick at, but now we’re beginning to glimpse those tantalising signs that spring really might be around the corner. And, in the big wide world of national education, could we be turning a corner too?
Some 15 years ago I decided at this time of year to enter the word ‘fun’ into the search box on the DfE website: the answer returned gloomily ‘not found’. I did the same again last month and found a plethora of articles. Good Green Fun, ran the first; Winter Sports: Stay Safe on the Slopes ran the next, followed by my personal favourite, Frances the Firefly: Guidance for teaching pupils about the dangers of fire. I’m so relieved to see that the DfE is at last finding the meaning of fun and can only hope that, one day in the near future, OFSTED will too. Wouldn’t that be a legacy for any Secretary of State for Education? OFSTED no longer thought of as responsible for making teachers’ lives miserable but as recognising that education should include, somewhere and somehow, the notion and celebration of fun.
I remarked to a class of 13-year-olds to whom, poor souls, I teach Latin that, having last year moved the exams for their year group from the summer to the Easter term, we could have fun with some real Latin literature once the exams are behind us. One of their number observed drily (and it’s probably not the observation you are expecting) that his prep school headmaster had banned fun. Even allowing for 13-year-old rhetoric, I’m still glad that I’m not that particular headmaster.
Stephen Winkley, one of my many and great mentors, used to say, whenever we were dealing with something difficult at school, “Remember, it’s supposed to be fun.” It’s important to be reminded of that: education should be fun. And thanks to Duncan Fowler-Watt, February at Bryanston is precisely that. As always on the weekend before half term, the A3 Festival (which some might think is an unnecessary indulgence) pierces the gloom and illuminates with its glorious mash-up of art, music, drama, fashion, and sheer fun. This is not something which just happens, of course: it takes enormous drive and dedication from Duncan to inspire a whole year group to acts of creativity they would never before have dared…or thought themselves capable of. As he and I stood together on the steps of the terrace last Saturday break time (with the governors watching on, having adjourned a sub-committee meeting for this very purpose) the A3 year group, in marvellous fancy dress, performed the conga, in the teeth of Storm Imogen, around the round pond. "I love this moment," Duncan confided in me, "It's pure joy.
Measure that, Mr Gradgrind; put that in your league tables, you schools who think, in your heart of hearts, whatever you say in your propaganda, that examinations and grades are the only things that truly matter. The good which comes from such creativity and teamwork is, in my view, simply incalculable and will, I know, encourage this generation of Bryanstonians on to more exciting things still. They will never forget their A3 Festival weekend, whether they were Scooby Doo, a fried egg, or the 12 apostles who ate their last supper at breakfast that morning. And, of course, the torch passes on. Each D, C and B pupil will take their own inspiration and look forward to making their A3 Festival the best one ever. It’s how things should be.
It’s through relishing life’s moments of fun and joy, properly and fully, without the feeling that such emotions are somehow not valid, or a waste of our serious purpose and time, that we learn to weather life’s toughest challenges. All the more reason to make sure there are always plenty of moments of pure joy.
Have a joyful and fun-filled half term!