It seemed exceptionally dark on Tuesday morning when we reverted to normal getting up times for school after the Christmas break. I was slightly reassured to hear that this was partly at least because of a solar eclipse that morning, but it was only slightly better the following morning. January does always seem not only very long but also very dark. There is a scientific reason for this: during the weeks around the solstice, both summer and winter (December and June) the length of the day changes only very slightly from day to day (less than one minute per day) whereas around the equinoxes in March and September the rate of change is much faster – about 4 minutes per day. That’s why there seem to be long weeks in the winter when it is dark for week after week, and why the longer days seem to arrive quite suddenly in the spring (and why the nights seem to close in so suddenly in the autumn).
It has not been pleasant this week to have so much rain along with the cloud and dark mornings – but I think we have all learnt that rain is a whole lot better than snow, and far less disruptive. We are all really hoping that the December snow events were all we are going to have this year.
Nonetheless, it is good in many ways to be back at school. These two terms leading up to Easter are hugely important – the last real stretch of teaching time in school for most examination classes – this year in particular because of the late date of Easter and the additional royal wedding bank holiday. In fact, the period after Easter (term 5) is quite bizarre. We have a three day week, followed by a four day week, then three normal weeks, then the May half term. A student asked me the other day why Easter was not always the same date. This was a matter of great dispute in the early days of Christianity, especially in England. The traditional way of calculating Easter is the Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox (21st March). That’s why the date can vary by as much as nearly five weeks either way – a full moon occurs only every 28 days.
Last night we celebrated the achievements of Bennett students formally with our presentation evening, when examination certificates and awards are distributed to last year’s year 11 and year 13 students. It is always particularly good to see so many former Bennett students now at university or on various forms of gap activity back to share experiences of their first term away. Last night was particularly positive – a good number of parents and students went out of their way to express gratitude to the school and to their teachers for helping to get them to the point they reached. Working in a school with young people is an enormous privilege, and no-one does it in order to get thanks or recognition, but it is enormously uplifting when this comes anyway!
The new year 2011 will present us with a greater than normal range of experiences. The very challenging financial situation we are facing in the public sector is beginning to bite, and our budget planning for the next two years is showing just how difficult it is going to be to eke out less money to keep the school running successfully. There are other major changes in the pipeline in the light of the new government’s education policies, which will unfold largely during the course of this calendar year. On the other hand, we are celebrating this autumn the school’s 60th anniversary, at a time when confidence in the value of Christian education is perhaps increasing again in our country after a period of quite intense pressure. We must brace ourselves for difficult times, but nonetheless retain hope in what the future will bring, both materially and, most importantly, spiritually.