WEEK 9 - Friday 10 November 2023
Just before half term, and just after the students had left the site for the day, an alert came through on our walkie-talkies that one of the school buses had broken down on Heads Lane, students were getting off it and the road was blocked. “It’s carnage,” was the phrase used by a passer-by. A number of colleagues and me, dashed out to the scene to discover that, actually, there wasn’t carnage but merely a group of young people, some motorists and a bus driver trying to resolve an unexpected issue that had occurred. Noone was in real control but everyone was doing their best to stay safe and figure it out.
Quickly, we held the traffic, ensured that the students were safely off the bus, and on the footpath either to walk home or head back to school to wait for a replacement bus. The driver was given the help he needed and, within a few minutes, all was calm. It probably would have been even if we hadn’t responded but it might have taken a little longer, with a little more risk.
“That was chaos,” said one of my pastoral leaders as we walked back to school. Indeed it was. Until we brought order to it. And then it wasn’t. Chaos is defined as a ‘formless, jumbled, disorganized mass’. It can infer some malign intent but it is more likely the outcome of a number of individuals trying to pursue their own self-interest in an environment without clear parameters, rules or leadership.
On any given day, there are around 1500 children, young people and adults on our site and, at a few seconds past 12.15, it seems like they’re all headed into the canteen for their lunch. By 12.30, most of them have got their food and are sitting eating, chatting to their friends or they have left and gone outside for some fresh air. It is a miracle of organisation, collective purpose and planning.
Whilst we teach the students to self-regulate themselves during this time (apart from having to queue and observe normal etiquette for a dining space, they can choose where to eat, where to sit and what to do with their lunch time), this period of time still requires supervision. There are 84 individual duty points across the two break and lunch sittings covering the entire site. That’s every day. These are mostly carried out by senior leaders, pastoral staff and the voluntary efforts of a number of other staff who help to maintain order - and prevent chaos.
Making sure this works becomes a study in managing the flow of people. The reason why students have to move one way down a corridor, or leave the building by a particular door is not because we like to introduce a petty rule; it is to ensure that hundreds of people are moving smoothly with as little disruption or risk as possible. I never imagined – when I became Headteacher – that I would spend so much of my time thinking about these seemingly trivial things; but I have grown to realise that these are not trivial at all – they are integral to creating a strong positive culture within school. If students know what is expected of them and they live up to these expectations, they are showing respect for themselves, their peers and the school community. These are values we need them to have when they go into society as adults.
So it is vital that we can provide them with routine, order - and, yes, queues - so they can learn these skills of how to be a good citizen. If we do not, we allow ‘chaos’ (in its literal term, rather than being ‘out of control’) to take hold which has a damaging effect on our culture and on student development.
That is a roundabout way to tell you that I spent one day of the holidays in school with my Deputy, Mr Chapman, and Mr Owen, our Facilities Manager, ensuring we have our common spaces, such as the canteen, laid out as smartly as we can. As the weather gets colder and more students wish to stay inside the building, this is crucial. We made some changes, we will make more and I am confident, the students will be able to stay warm and comfortable through the colder months.
I also spent some time during half term reacting to the latest release of Bruce Springsteen concert dates and managed to secure tickets for a couple of shows, and then to book hotels. I have been expecting, since 2016, that ‘this will be the last tour’ but he and his band just keep on going, and so will I next Spring. I can’t wait.
Finally, as I put the finishing touches to this blog, we are nearing 11am and our Two-Minute Silence. I am very proud of how our students always respond to this, showing their respect to those generations, old and not so old, who have performed a duty far more important than ours and made the ultimate sacrifice for others. We will all remember them.
Have a lovely weekend and thank you for your support.