This much I know about… ending a school year in March

20 Mar 2020, 19:57

Author and headteacher John Tomsett reflects on the last day of school as we know it. (For now.)

Today, I began our final Year 11 assembly with the Chinese curse: “May you live in interesting times”. It seemed apposite.

Oh for a boring Friday in mid-March, where nothing interesting happens, a Friday consigned to the “instantly forgettable” pile, beyond recall.

Instead, it has been a day which will be of interest to historians for centuries to come.

It began for me at 5.00 am, like every day this week.

We have taken things hour by hour. What else can anyone do? We created a planning room where, at 7.30 am meetings, our SLT sat on separate tables and figured out what on earth to do. We worked closely together but kept our distance.

Since Monday we have focused relentlessly on communicating with our students, parents and colleagues. A daily morning PowerPoint from me, read aloud by form tutors to their tutees. A daily parental bulletin. A daily Coronavirus Contingency Planning Update for colleagues before 7.30 am.

Communicate. Communicate. Communicate.

A vacuum is soon filled with fear. Our communications strategy helped manage the growing levels of anxiety.

The winner chose the toilet paper

Once out of that room, we put our game face on. As students and staff began to buckle, there was no reason to add to their doubts. It’s great to show you’re human for sure, but people also need to feel they are in safe hands, especially when uncertainty and fear abound.

Then again, I did weep privately in my office on Thursday after I had told the Year 11s and 13s their examinations were cancelled.

Over the past two days we have focused our minds on gathering in all the evidence we could find to support our predicted grade judgements. We knew we had to give everyone a sense of purpose. We kept them busy before they started thinking too much.

Beyond that, I’ve been repeating to anyone and everyone the Shelley line which I had written on my office whiteboard last October and is still there: “If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?”

At break time today, the sunshine warmed the backs of my legs through the glass as I stood in reception, a reminder that this too will pass and the earth will keep turning.

And we laughed a lot. My last two Year 11 classes were uproarious. They told stories, finding solace in their narratives.

My Business Studies boys told me things about our school that no one else needs to know!

The prize for the first student to solve their last ever GCSE mathematics question was either all the cash in my trouser pockets or a roll of toilet paper. The winner chose the latter.

When I stood on the stage for the final assembly, I told them I was sorry they will never have that last day of school rite of passage. I told them that they will be awarded their qualifications. I told them their futures will be secure, that the sun will shine again.

Our school values of Respect, Honesty and Kindness, emblazoned above me across the hall wall as I spoke, have never been more resonant. I told them to go home and be kind to people.

My final slide before we bid our Year 11s goodbye featured a pack of love hearts. I explained that at the core of our response to this crisis has to be love. And how, when this is over, we just might be a kinder, gentler species, one that realises that we need each other more than we ever knew.

Shakespeare knew what he was on about when he wrote, “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so”.

As our young people hugged each other and wept, the comforting strains of “It Must be Love” floated across the school hall.

Nothing more, nothing less…

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  1. I cannot remember my last day at school or any speech by my headteacher (not sure we even had one) but these students will remember their last day of school and a headteacher who showed he cared for each and everyone of of them. In my book that will carry them further in life than any set of qualifications.