Royal Grammar School

Newcastle

Focus: vocation

Focus: vocation

 

I’m never sure why major teaching unions hold their annual conference over the Easter weekend. They always appear full of anger and splenetic energy: perhaps they’d be less grumpy if they stayed at home over the long weekend, surely a time when families like to get together.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not anti-union and have always belonged to one myself.

Still, once again this Easter the unions failed to cover themselves in glory. All the talk was of dispute with government and the threat of strikes. It’s interesting that one of the heads’ unions, NAHT (I belong to the other one, ASCL), has decided to open its membership to what we nowadays call “middle leaders” in schools. They expect to attract several thousand new members in this way, the sort of people who find themselves caught between senior management and the ordinary members of the staffroom as they try to deal with (and mitigate) the impact of strikes.

I have great sympathy with the anger of state school teachers and the way they are treated (and, frankly, denigrated) by the current Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove. Moreover, their belligerence is only half of the problem: the other 50% comes from the hostile attitude of Gove himself.

Every time the two sides manufacture yet another crisis, I’m reminded of the way they used to elect popes in the old days. After a certain number of days’ debating and voting in the Sistine Chapel, they started to cut the cardinals’ food. That tended to focus minds, and the election was made long before the food ran out. With disputes as intractable as those between government and teachers’ unions, should we try the same approach? Perhaps a little common sense would break out.

I don’t want to sound smug (no, really!), but I frequently thank heaven for the independence we enjoy at the RGS. To be sure, we are affected by government lunacies: the piecemeal and chaotic introduction of new A levels and GCSEs, managed with a staggering level of ineptitude, will be a major problem that we all have to confront from 2015 onwards. And, even though we are independent, we are hedged about more than ever with regulation, another raft having hit us just this week.

But in general at the RGS we can step aside from the conflicts and arguments and get on with our business. That business is, simply, teaching children. It’s not simple, of course, but a highly complex process. Nonetheless, however we may get bogged down in dealing with the complexities and all the planning and strategy required, the basic fact – indeed, the calling – at the heart of the school’s purpose remains our focus, and remains simple. It is to give the very best of opportunities to the children who join the school and to ensure that they leave equipped as competent, confident, well-qualified, highly skilled generous and altruistic young adults ready to move on to the next stage of their lives.

Our teachers never forget that. The school looks after all its employees: we have few of the gripes that the government’s education professionals suffer. But we don’t forget that we went into teaching above all out of vocation, because we believe passionately in what we do.

It shows. At this time of year, when exam candidates are becoming very anxious, teachers work harder than ever: it’s not last-minute cramming, nor even colossal amounts of revision, because our students do that for themselves. It’s about being there, drawing on our vast accumulation of collective experience, calming nerves, tweaking, polishing and making sure the final preparation is as good as it can be.

Business as usual, then! Welcome to the new term.

Bernard Trafford

Headmaster