When you hear politicians, government officials, celebrity-status experts and media pundits pontificating about education, schools, pupils and teachers, do you think to yourself “I don’t recognise this portrait of a school” or “which schools have these people visited recently to give them such opinions”?
It is an unusually long spring term, as Easter is so late this year; examination classes in years 11, 12 and 13 are making the most of this time to hone their skills and understanding. Teachers are giving up time at lunch, break and after school to offer additional support to those who need it; providing a valuable chance to ask individual questions on a topic and clarify understanding.
Pupils are completing practice questions under timed conditions at home or at school and later comparing their answers with the marking scheme to make sure that they are on the right track. Much academic work is going on, but there is definitely lots more happening as well.
In corridors and corners you will find groups of year 11 and 6th-formers passionately rehearsing their projects for their performance unit. Elsewhere girls are practising their recitals for their music examinations at GCSE, AS and A level.
We do not operate a “lock-down” policy this term. There is still time for enrichment and trips out of school and staff and girls are making the most of this. Strange piles of newspaper have been spotted around the school – preparation for the inter-house “recycled fashion” show, which partly involves a competition to create outfits within a few minutes from a pile of old newspapers.
Hockey, netball and swimming teams are still involved in matches and tournaments, but tennis rackets are everywhere to be seen (encouraged by the recent sunshine), athletics training has started in earnest and trials for the rounders squads are occurring. The eco-group has just presented a very thought-provoking assembly on biodiversity; a group participated in a London Latin Reading Competition, while others took part in debates, some in English and some in Spanish.
Physicists have attended master classes at London University, while those studying Japanese have enjoyed a Japanese cookery class. The whole of year 8 has just been to Kew Gardens, while others have visited galleries and theatres. Recent visiting speakers have talked about being a civil servant and about being the first lady of Georgia at the time of the “orange revolution” and we had some wonderful poetry workshops with Patience Agbabi. Sixth-formers attended a remarkable conference on the challenges of the practice of female genital mutilation. Meanwhile our community action programme is flourishing.
We are halfway through a French exchange programme, which will be completed at the start of the Easter holiday, as will an Italian exchange, a hockey tour to Holland, a religious studies trip to Walsingham, a geography field trip and several Duke of Edinburgh’s Award expeditions. At the end of the holiday, almost all year 9 pupils will participate in our annual trip to the First World War Battlefields. Teachers giving up their holiday time to accompany educational trips does not quite resonate with the normal media view of our profession.
I am sure that those of you who have read this far will have your own school’s activities to reflect on. Of course, I have been guilty of writing exclusively about the positive and the good – but why not? A recent survey showed that our young people feel that they are disadvantaged by the negative images and stereotypes relentlessly portrayed in the media. The same could be said of our schools and their communities.
Admittedly, occasionally a school is visited by a high-ranking politician and is praised, but for the rest of us, whose existence is rarely recognised beyond our own communities, we need to raise our voices and say that we are indeed making a difference for the better for our pupils.
Marion Gibbs is head of James Allen’s Girls’ School in south London.