Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Being for the benefit of Mr W - the lessons of the circus

Many regular travellers of this eprattle will know that last year, despite being a year of growth and success, ended on a sour note, with results at the end of key stage 2 not quite being what we had hoped.

This led to a real summer of soul searching on behalf of yours truly.  What were we going to do? How could we change to make the improvements required?  What did we need to get rid of?  What, fundamentally, did we need to collectively build in order to ensure our children and our community got what it rightly deserved?

I made a few decisions.  Firstly, my relationship with hair is over.  Many people will have seen it coming long before me.  Secondly, some of my shirts just had to go.  Again, I was possibly the last to know.  Mostly, I made decisions about what I was prepared to see happening and, arguably more importantly, what absolutely could not happen this year.

Many beach / car / tent / back garden hours were dedicated to this thinking.  Although I reached a million personal decisions and convictions, too many to list here, they all essentially boiled down to the following: this year I was determined that we would do only the things that we needed to, and would do them very well.  There would be no room for added extras or fripperies; we’re going to keep it simple.

So, day one arrives – and I have to say how much I was looking forward to it – and along comes the best uniform I have ever seen at our school.  Year 6 parents could not have been more receptive to our plans, and we have really good news about our planned improvements.  Above all, we’re keeping it simple.  After all, simple is what makes us a good school.

The quality of the books and the work in week one confirm my conviction that this is the way to go.  Everyone stay in their own classroom the whole day.  Keep it plain and simple.  No fuss.  I was unshakable in my conviction, and determined to deliver this no-frills school. 

Then, murmurings.

What about bikeability Mr Willis? Well, yes, I suppose we can look at that.  After all, that should be part of our remit, and we can still keep it simple.  Good books and hard work and, for a few, bikeability.

What about multisports Mr Willis? Surely we can’t’ let that go?  Well, no, you’re right.  That was a real winner last year, and the children loved it.  It also gave our younger children chance to participate in some really exciting events such as archery.  So, books, work, bikeability and multisports – but no more.  That’s what we need to do.

But what about all our additional reading volunteers Mr Willis? We’ve trained them and they’re raring to go, and it would be a real shame not to get them into our classes, don’t you think.  Well, yes, I have to agree, and it will really help, but only targeted support mind you.  Books, work, bikeability, multisports and reading.  Shop shut.

Oh, Mr Willis, what about phonics?  What about our assessments and our groups, meaning our children get to work in really exciting groups at the start of the day?  After all, the school has made an investment in it, and it shouldn’t go to waste.  Okay, I get it, and you’re right.  We need to ensure our children are getting the very best when it comes to phonics, and that means applying the groups and the assessment we have worked so hard at.  So – books, work, bikes, sports, reading and phonics.  That is it.  Enough.

Big man, what about forest school?  Surely you remember putting that in the SIP?  Well, yes, actually I do, so yes, let's have it.  Books, work, bikes, so on, forest school, job done.

Mr W, what about the fire engine and the fire men we’ve booked to come and work with the children in key stage 1?  Well, I don’t like it, and if more than three female staff at any one time are in the car park with them I will send the fire crew off on an emergency (and do keep certain female staff away from the toaster) but as it’s curriculum based, and I have seen it in your medium term planning, well, okay.  But that’s it – books, work, etc.

I know you said that’s enough Mr Willis, but what about these two new structures we want to build on site?  The outdoor dining classroom and the new playground?   Can we get on with those please?  Okay, go ahead, but it cannot be a distraction from books, work, you know the rest, and that is absolutely the last.

We appreciate that Mr Willis, they said, but what about music?  You of all people should know how much we need our music.  More and more children have signed up for the sessions, and all of year 3 are going to learn to play the ukulele.  Surely we have to go ahead with that?  Okay, fine. Yes, I am the last person to stand in the way of the music.  So, and this will be the last time everyone, do you understand?  So, books, work, bikes, sports, reading, phonics, fire engine, structures, music. 

I glared, as if daring anyone in the entire school to chip in again.  We needed to keep it tight, simple, not invest massive energies into frivolities.  I had bent enough.  This would stop.

Then a hand went up, right at the far end of the school. It started off small, but became more and more noticeable, until I couldn’t concentrate whilst it stayed aloft.  I would deal with this in my new, no-nonsense fashion.  What is it?

But, Mr Willis, what about the circus?

A circus.  I kid you not.  A full sized, flags flying over the big top circus, with lions and elephants.  Well, with clowns and unbelievably handsome jugglers anyway. Yes, in the midst of all of the above, we also end up playing host to a wonderful circus (courtesy of the Buddies of Badock’s).

Sat at the back of the circus whilst Mrs W was accosted by Spiderman (a novel, 21st century circus twist I agree) I got to thinking – perhaps Fatboy, you’ve got this from the wrong end.  Perhaps you shouldn’t be doing two or three things over and over; perhaps you should be doing as many things as possible to make school life irresistible, and do them all really well?  In the pursuit for academic excellence, did you lose sight of the things that make a school truly marvellous, Chubs? 

As I sat gazing up at that lady in the hoop, and thinking about all the new structures, and the children at bikeabiltiy, and the children mastering the uke, and the brilliant phonics and reading, and the wonderful sports going on (but mostly gazing at the lady) I realised that we had produced all our brilliant work precisely because of all of these things, not around or in spite of them. 

The list would continue to grow and grow, and the work would only get better as a result.  In the midst of more soul searching I reconciled myself to the fact that I am the person least likely to tolerate a school where excitement is not allowed, and where children work with no motivation whatsoever. 

So, hands up everyone.  Tell me now, what are you going to contribute, and how will it make our school even better?  Okay, that sounds a little messy, …

Have a great year everyone.  After a wonderful September, with a plethora of visitors who could only tell us how much they liked our school, that is all.

For now…