Royal Grammar School

Newcastle

All about attitude

All about attitude

I went to a charming event yesterday. Jesmond Cricket Club was commemorating the life of Ray Eden, Old Novocastrian and doyen of the Cricket Club who died aged 92 at the beginning of this year. The club marked his memory by placing a photo-montage of him in the bar, unveiling a commemorative bench and planting a cherry tree (in deference to his favourite Jesmond restaurant!). All this was done amongst old friends in glorious September sunshine: truly a pleasure to be there, even if those of us who knew him are still saddened by his loss.  

How such warmth and goodness contrast with yet another carping comment from Sir Michael Wilshaw, boss of OFSTED (he seems to feature far too often in my blogs). Sir Michael was sounding off (this time) against scruffy teenagers. if they can’t be bothered to present themselves properly, he complains, they shouldn’t complain when they don’t get jobs. The other week he was blaming parents: this time it was schools, which he says, simply don’t insist on smart uniform and standards of behaviour.  

Don’t they? And isn’t he reading a bit too much into uniform?  

I always have to be careful when I criticise Sir Michael’s comments because I know he ran and transformed one of the toughest schools in London, the old Hackney Downs School, rebranded as the Mossbourne Academy. Teachers I know and respect who worked for him virtually worship the ground he walked on: so I should be careful.  

But I just can’t take some of his black-and-white pronouncements. Actually, I don’t think there is any proven link between wearing uniform smartly at school and turning up presentably when applying for a job. School uniform doesn’t necessarily equate to “clothes” in children’s minds: it’s more something associated entirely with school.  

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not against uniform, and I’m very pleased, for example, that the battles we fight over uniform at the RGS are only small ones and that our boys and girls generally look very smart.  

I do worry, however, when I read of schools so embattled over uniform with their students that I wonder if any learning is really taking place: there are, in the end, more important elements in education.  

At bottom, it’s all about attitude. Schools certainly have an enormous part to play there, as Wilshaw says. But so do families (as he said last week). I worry about his way of picking off one target after another instead of going for a bigger picture. Of course, the trouble with big pictures is that they’re always more complex than one would like. If I had a pound for every time I’ve seen a politician’s or policymaker’s eyes glaze over when I make the fatal mistake of saying, “But it’s not as simple as that …”: well, I’d be a rich man, as they say.  

Education at its best is a complicated business. Nonetheless there are simply, fundamental, underlying truths. I mentioned them last week.  

Above all it’s the commitment to excellence: that’s what we believe, what drives us at the RGS.  

Being smart and well-prepared, ready to learn, is a big bit of that commitment. When the attitude is right, when young people always seek to be and do the best and develop the necessary “character” - that is, the motivation, application and resilience to achieve success – then they will flourish in their education.  

Oh, and they’ll probably turn up to job interviews properly dressed, too.  

I never stand up and complain about a class or a year-group being a “problem”: such generalisations are meaningless but damaging. Similarly I don’t think it’s helpful when the Chief Inspector of Schools stands up and lambasts teenagers as a whole. There are better ways.  

Because, as I said, it’s not as simple as that.  

Bernard Trafford

Headmaster