Review by Frances Akinde

SEND consultant and neurodiversity champion

29 Jun 2024, 5:00

Blog

The Conversation – with Frances Akinde

Heading outdoors

As we approach our long-needed summer break, it’s a good time to look back and celebrate our achievements over the past academic year. Transition arrangements are well underway and a raft of enrichment activities are enhancing that feel-good factor.

As a former headteacher and SENCo, I know these are crucial to wellbeing, but also that funding them from ever-dwindling budgets can be a challenge.

So I was heartened by Gravesend Grammar School’s social media feed this week, which flipped that on its head. Their enrichment programme actually raised money for their school improvement fund and for charity.

The school community raised over £20,000 through their annual whole school sponsored walk, a proportion of which went  to the Elliott Holmes Memorial Fund, a charity that provides access to mental health counselling for young people aged 13-18 in the local area.

Shouldering the burden

Sharing the joy of school events like these on social platforms allows schools to showcase their accomplishments to a wider audience. It’s an opportunity to celebrate the hard work of students, teachers and staff beyond the immediate school community.

However, as headteacher Dave McPartlin pointed out this week, rising complaints against schools have increasingly centered around these very experiences. Though they are funded by fundraising and donations, not everyone perceives them as reasons for celebration.

Sadly, this puts children’s wellbeing and their teachers’ in tension with each other. While creating happy memories is a fundamental aspect of school life, it should also be a joyous one for us. But complaints have an impact on our mental health that can’t be neglected.

It can be difficult, but it’s crucial to differentiate between genuine complaints, which are important to address, and malicious ones, which can be emotionally draining and divert our attention from our core purpose.

And we must not let these challenges deter us from sharing our achievements. Instead, we should use them as opportunities to promote a more positive and supportive community spirit.

On our knees

Not that the profession isn’t prone to do this kind of thing to itself, as edu-Twitter consistently demonstrates. So when the arrival of summer weather was met by a discussion about knees (Yes, knees. Men’s knees in particular.) I feared the worst.  

However, what ensued was a good-natured thread that was more concerned about what shoes to wear with the outfit than whether it would infringe policies. Great! Now let’s do school uniform!

Not toeing the line

Perhaps it’s the sunshine that has brought about a more light-hearted atmosphere to education social media. Because instead of falling out on the subject of the rise of term-time holidays, we got a humorous take on the matter.

More seriously, however, the latest pupil attendance data shows that 20 per cent of students are persistently absent from school. Moreover, the days students struggle to attend school the most are Wednesdays and Fridays.

Coincidentally, Friday is also one of the days that teachers are most likely to be absent, the other being Monday. So while there’s lots of talk about a ‘broken social contract’ between schools and families feeding the attendance crisis, there’s arguably something else going on that needs to be dealt with.

Eyes and ears and mouth and nose

And where better to hear and add our voices to this and other important debates than next week’s Festival of Education? Now in it’s 14th year, one thing is certain: the conversations are sure to be on the nose.

This year, as a trustee for the BAMEed network and co-lead of BAMEEd SEND, I’m honoured to have organised a strand of five sessions weaving together important threads of diversity, equity, and inclusion into the programme.

Sadly, this will be the first Festival in a long time when we won’t be joined by the legendary Sir Tim Brighouse. The outpouring of appreciation for his dedication to education continued last week with an event to celebrate his life, which made Schools Week’s front page, and I am certain his absence will be noted next week too.

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