It’s strange how the start of term in August suddenly and almost imperceptibly becomes the middle of term in the middle of autumn. Despite the warm and sunny weather today, it now really feels like – as my redoubtable headmaster at another school in the 1980s used to say – we are in the ‘guts’ of the term. The intensity of working in a school, with hundreds of individual transactions and conversations every day, all of them with (theoretically at least) with a purpose, and all of them needing to be remembered for future reference, has a tendency not only to frazzle all but the calmest and most assured adults, but also to magnify issues which to an outsider might seem small or of only passing importance. And as everyone gets more tired, so the factor of magnification gets greater! One of any headteacher’s most important roles is to maintain a sense of perspective, and be able to explain to someone who is terribly upset by something why, really, there might be another way of looking at the issue which might make it seem less catastrophic than it appears right now. Above all, you have to avoid getting sucked in, whilst at the same time being prepared to take people’s issues seriously.
Now before everyone starts saying that it’s not only people who work in a school who have to contend with the pressure which comes from working with others (and by the way they do get massively long holidays, don’t they?), I am not belittling anyone else’s work, and every job and place of work of course has its stresses. But there is something, I think, uniquely personally demanding about working in school – it is just the relentless volume of interpersonal contact all day, every day. The worst people I have ever met for ‘talking shop’ are teachers – when they get together, on a Friday evening for example, they do nothing other than discuss school and all the people they work with – any spouse of a teacher who has been unfortunate enough to spend an evening in the company of a group of teacher-colleagues knows how mind-numbing that can be for any outsider!
Today we had our Bennett harvest festival. One of the features of a community is shared traditions, and one of our Bennett traditions is that the sixth form are given a (fairly!) free rein in organising and leading a harvest festival service for young students. It always makes me rather twitchy, I have to admit, because being something of a control freak I am always nervous about how things will work. Generally they actually work well, and I do realise how closely tuned in sixth formers are to the needs and interests of students who are only a few years younger than them. The age gap in my case is somewhat greater! Several younger students commented to me at lunchtime today how much they enjoyed the ‘special assembly’ – that made me feel a bit more ‘chilled’ about the whole thing than I had before!
We collected literally hundreds of food tins and packets – these have all been taken down to the Tunbridge Wells Soup Bowl for use in feeding the homeless and vulnerable adults of this town. People often look at me mockingly when I mention this anywhere else in the country: ‘Down-and–outs in Royal Tunbridge Wells? Don’t be ridiculous!’ But no, they really are there, and their needs are great. I am proud that this school makes such a strong contribution to this kind of immediate community support.
We all breathed a sigh of relief as well this week that Open Evenings were over. They were very successful, however, and we have really positive feedback from visitors. It is amazing that some parents and children come to Open Evenings in year 4, then year 5, and then often twice in year 6! I admire their perseverance. We have had many, many enquiries over the past two weeks about admissions, how to meet the criteria and so on, and a real sense that places at Bennett are going once again to be in strong demand. As I said at the Open Evenings, that is because Bennett is strong on achievement – results, in other words – but strong on everything else as well. And increasingly it’s the whole package and ethos which counts, not just the great results, which should really be a given.