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Snow, boilers and tuition fees

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Blog - Snow, boilers and tuition fees

Thursday 9 December 2010

It seems like an awfully long time since I wrote the last blog entry, Sunday evening ten days ago when I saw my first few snowflakes in Tunbridge Wells this winter.  Little did I know how the meteorological situation would develop during the course of the week, though the weather forecasts on the Monday were becoming more and more alarming.  We are in the process still of developing more extended use of our virtual learning environment, BSpace, and really could have done with  a bit more time to iron our technical and other hitches, but the snow forced us to jump straight in and use it fairly extensively for everyone.  A very useful pilot, with hindsight, which has certainly given staff and students the impetus to start using it, if they have been slower or more reluctant users up to now.

As I said last time, snowy weather is a headteacher’s nightmare.  It inevitably involves incredibly early starts in the morning, in order to be able to get into school, often on difficult roads, and assess the situation, consulting colleagues where necessary and making the decision about what to do, and then getting it published by 7am.  It then involves getting everyone working in a different way, and keeping on top of that work, as well as fielding the inevitable queries, and sometimes criticisms, which come in, whatever decision is taken.  Sounds like I’m asking for sympathy: not really, just trying to explain it from my perspective!

Anyway, it was a relief to get back to something resembling normality on Monday.  It didn’t last long though: on Tuesday morning I was told that mysteriously the main boiler in school has shut itself down, despite the fact that we had more than enough fuel oil to last for several more days – though the delivery from the ‘snow week’ before had not come, because of the weather.  To cut a long story short, in subzero temperatures, you need more oil in the talks than the minimum, otherwise pressure in the system reduces and the boiler will not fire.  Anyway, we survived for all of Tuesday with the building gradually cooling down, but fortunately we were able to get an oil delivery for Wednesday morning so the promised increase in temperature came as planned during Wednesday morning.  If it sounds as if my entire life is dominated by weather issues, it has certainly felt like that for the past two weeks!

Breaks in routine are never good for schools and students.  It always takes a little while to get children back into school routines at the start of a new term for example, and a break as unplanned for as a series of snow days is particularly disruptive.  However, despite some uniform issues, students have been really good on this occasion – we have had a few snowballs, but really nothing that anyone could describe as overexcited or unsafe behaviour.  I think that many have simply got a bit bored with snow!

We have had some significant discussions recently in school, especially with sixth form staff, about the university tuition fees debate.  We have picked up a particular concern that students especially in years 11 and 12 may be becoming alarmed by the national furore over changes to fees, and perhaps be being left with the idea that university will not be an option for them because of the cost.  Of course, there is legitimate political debate over this issue, which is fine.  However, it would be a great shame if any number of young people reached the conclusion in their own minds that they would not be going to university, given that for many it is the gateway to better careers, higher earnings in the future, but most importantly greater personal fulfilment and a real foundation for adult life.  We are going to do some work with years 11 and 12 in January to try to redress the balance of impressions that many of them have gleaned from the media coverage.  There are on the internet innumerable angry student blogs and other negative coverage, but it is quite hard to find balanced factual information.  One site which does set things out very clearly (sourced, though, by one of the coalition parties) is www.factsonfees.com . I would urge anyone worried by the situation or feeling that they do not have access to balanced information to take a look through the very well set out pages there.

Anyway, this time next week we will be in the final stretch of this term two of the school year.  We are marking the end of term with in-school Advent and Christmas services, and are having the usual main carol service on Thursday evening at St John’s Church.  A very happy and peace-filled Christmas to all readers.