Thursday, 6 June 2013

What's in a word?

Well, that was an interesting Monday morning: news of the OfSTED blitz hitting Bristol, and how they were good enough to accompany it with a less-than-positive press campaign.  Here we are, less than a week into a fortnight of waiting on phone calls and wishing colleagues the best of luck, and it all seems a bit ... unnecessary.  Unpleasant.  Ill-conceived.  Not nice... oh, that's two words.  Apologies.

Because individual words are important.   As a Head, I've always preferred Senior Leadership team to Senior Management Team; always referred to it as a school improvement plan as opposed to school development plan.  It may seem pedantic, but I think this is just the time for pedantry, because there is a world of difference in the use and intent of certain words and phrases, especially when imposed.

How may times have I stood in front of assembly and suggested, urged, implored using the word  "friend"  instead of something more profane.  I am very fond of using the three little words model - try it.  Which sounds better:

This is fantastic  or    Must try harder

That's all mine   or    You go first

 Go away loser     or      Can I help?

Want to play?       or      No you can't

Well?  It's over simplistic, but ever-so-true, and easily transferable to other situations and contexts.

Because words, small, individual nuggets of language are important.  Their application, context and intent convey massive emotional meaning, and only through very deliberate usage may we achieve our best with them.

Yesterday's meeting at the M-Shed (nice venue, that) was, in many ways, a meeting about words.  About distinctiveness, about selection, and about shared purpose.  Sadly, the word "default" was employed repeatedly, and it should perhaps not have been.

On our table (the one at the back - you know who you are) we discussed how and why we had elected / selected / decided to remain as "LA maintained schools".  There are two crucial issues here, and I wish I had the intelligence to have realized it at the time:

1.  Why did we take this brave stand (because we did, and it was not, despite our humble and modest protestations, because "It's what we did"), and

2.  How did something so marvellous get such a cruddy name?

There are many political, socio-economic, theoretical and philosophical answers to question 1.  As per usual, mine is simple and heartfelt:  I proposed to the governing body that we remain a community school because, if we wanted to incorporate the Children's Centre, work with the Greenway Centre, the Ranch, the community forum, etc, and maintain service for the community of Southmead at the core of everything we do, then the best way in which to do that was to be proud to remain a school within the remit of the local authority.  Many governor debates take hours, or weeks; this one took a second - we remain a community school, and proudly so.

So, how did we get the altogether mediocre moniker of "maintained"?  More pedantic (there he goes again) bloggspotters will spout the Education Act XXXX at me, but the question is merely rhetorical.  Let me put it another way.

You wouldn't call a Fun Park a Maintained facility (although I have been to "leisure" centers which would defy trade descriptions).

My wife and many others would cry out in alarm if the Mall or Cabot Circus were suddenly deemed little more than a maintained venue.

Was Mona Lisa's smile simply maintained?  Okay, I'm stretching a point with that one, but what I am trying to hint at, not very intelligently, is the value of the simple, single, essential word.

Our wonderful schools could be called maintained; I fully understand the terminology and phraseology and its origins.  But its no real compliment is it?  Nor does it encapsulate what we are about and what we seek to achieve.  Furthermore, community school has a better ring to it, but does it go the whole hog?  Does it envelope and package the entire truth and nature of what we get out of bed for?

I would set out a different suggestions.  I believe we should be called "Proud" schools: proud of our decision, proud to work with the local authority, proud to serve the communities we are privileged to serve, proud to be part of this wider group of similarly proud schools, proud to welcome and build friendships with schools and settings of a different nature, and proud of the work we do.

Or how about "Blue Sky" schools? Never stopping to consider the limitations or conventions which seek to inhibit the amazing progress of our organisations and the individuals therein.  Relentless in our drive and aspiration to provide something truly special for our brilliant young people regardless of little hindrances such as crippling deficit budgets.

Maybe "seeker" schools: not schools which place Quidditch on the curriculum, but schools who are always looking out for the next drive or initiative which will push them into the next stage of their development, you know, that thing we're always seeking.

Perhaps one word is not enough.  Perhaps we need a whole new lexicon.  Whatever it may end up as being, I just wanted to nail my colours (claret and blue) to the mast and say openly - I'm very proud of our position as a school which openly celebrates its relationships with the authority, and revels in its partnerships, both within and beyond, that improve and enhance the quality of experience and opportunity we offer our children on a daily basis.  It's quite simple really.

That is all.  For now.

PS The only words in this blog that offend the squiggly red line of the spell check are "Quidditch" and "OfSTED".  Just FYI.