We are returning to school tomorrow morning after the half term break, for the final half term of this school year. Because many teachers lose a number of examination classes in May, there is a tendency to look forward to this half term stretch as a period of slightly less frenetic pace than the rest of the school year, and a bit more time to do things there is not normally much time to do. My experience is that actually this half term often turns out to be no less demanding than any other for teachers. This is because schools at this time are trying to focus on the present, and keep good learning going with the classes we still have, but at the same time they are looking forward to next year, and working to get everything just right for the year ahead. This inevitably brings some stress!
The half term period ahead is also one when, for the point of view of a student, some more interesting and varied activities happen. Of course, for us at Bennett, at the end of this term we have our activities week, when almost all students in years 9 and 10 have residential visits or work experience, and those in years 7 and 8 have a more varied week where there is a chance to do some different projects and activities at school, as well as some day visits out of school. These are often the things that we remember most vividly from our school days, and we at Bennett are absolutely convinced of the importance of educational visits, both because of what is actually seen and experienced on the trip and also, perhaps even more importantly, because of the experience of actually travelling as a group with other young people.
The short term from Easter to the half term holiday, punctuated as it was by bank holidays, was one where we were able to make a number of new staff appointments. In previous years we have done most new appointments in February and March, but this year, because of our conversion to academy status, and the uncertainties in funding, we felt it prudent to postpone most appointments until the funding position was clear. I was delighted to be able to report to governors recently that we are now in a strong financial position at least for the immediate future, and have been able to go ahead with all the staff appointments we needed to make.
The two subject areas where we have the greatest turnover this year are English and Music. In English, because of two promotions, one departure for family reasons, and one impending maternity leave, we needed to make a total of three full time appointments, and I believe we have three excellent teachers joining us in this department in September. Music is an area we have been wanting to move forward with for some time, as I have mentioned in this blog before, and although we will be sad about departures in this subject area this summer I am delighted that we have been able to appoint a superb new Director of Music and a very promising new teacher of music. Both of these are excellent musicians in their own right, and the Director of Music, whose main focus will be on developing a pervasive musical culture across the school, rather than on music lessons as such, has a strong track record in schools and churches already. We are just no working on the detail of what we would like him to do in year 1, and are keen to focus on bringing music to the wider school community as well. Ideas are welcome – any interest in joining a Bennett-based ‘community choir’?
I had planned to go away this half term (actually to Cuba, as a bit of a Cuban jazz fan) but unfortunately the flights were changed at the last minute and rescheduled to come back on Monday, so I needed to pull out. However, I have had a wonderful week in England, put together at the last minute. Inspired by a BBC4 programme on the composer Hubert Parry, I visited Highnam Church in Gloucestershire, built by the composer’s father. Hubert Parry was the composer of some of the music featured in the royal wedding recently, and also of the music of the hymns Jerusalem, and ‘Dear Lord and Father of mankind’, which has to be one of the loveliest traditional hymns in the book. The church is quite superb, with decoration throughout and stained glass windows by Pugin, and others. It was closed on my arrival there, but fortunately the gardener busy strimming the graveyard turned out to be the churchwarden and was happy to let us in and give an impromptu guided tour.
I also indulged a guilty passion: the reading of historical fiction, in particular the fourth and penultimate C J Samson book featuring the Tudor hunchback detective Matthew Shardlake, entitled ‘Revelation’. I can hardly contemplate the prospect of there being only one left in the series – apparently Shardlake does not die at the end of the (currently) final novel, so there is hope that Samson will yet produce a sixth book!