The education column with Dennis Richards

Joe Root has, at times, looked shell shocked during the Ashes series.
Joe Root has, at times, looked shell shocked during the Ashes series.
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At the turn of the year, I doubt if many commentators will look back on 2017 and claim it was a vintage year. Leadership is back on the agenda. With a bang. Hopefully, not the sort of bang that Trump and Kim Jong-un have threatened us with for much of the year.

The England cricket team lost the Ashes in next to no time and Joe Root, the captain has, at times, looked shell-shocked.

I suspect that it is also fair to say that it has not been a vintage year for education either. And probably for much the same reason. Leading a school has become a nigh-on impossible task.

My granddaughter goes to a secondary school somewhere in the North of England.

She has come to like, and above all, respect and admire her Head Teacher. Her end of term letter informed her that the said head teacher had been appointed to be “Chief Executive of a Multi-Academy Trust”.

She will still be in school “two or three” days a week but will also take responsibility for a number of other schools some distance away. I doubt that parents have fully grasped what is happening.

It’s a bit like discovering that Jose Mourinho is now, not just manager of Manchester United, but he will also be taking on Oldham Athletic and Bury as well. You can guess the response of the Manchester United Board. No way Jose. Put quite simply, the support role formerly played by the Local Education Authority has now been placed on to the shoulders of the super-heads and their teams.

We are in the middle of a huge educational experiment and the jury is still out. But hey ho, good luck to all school leaders in 2018. You will need it.

If you can get past all the target-setting, obsession with examinations data, lesson observations, risk assessments, policies for everything, marketing and PR, the job retains its ancient power. The students are endlessly challenging, interesting and rewarding. And some things never change.

Nativity plays have staged a fightback this year. The one I attended had all the classic ingredients. As ever, all the careful planning fell apart. Lots of off stage whispering, determined nose-excavating, bizarre costumes, and an enthusiastic looking for, and waving to, supporters in the audience. Lindsey won the award for the best nativity story. “I was Mary when I was six. I was carrying baby Jesus when his head fell off. It rolled under the benches, so I dived after it and shoved it back on. I haven’t acted since”.

As for 2018, there will be much to disagree about. The Times Diary told us of the vicar who would register his delight with an election result by ensuring that “Now thank we all our God” was on the hymn sheet. If the result was not to his liking, the congregation would find itself singing “Dear Lord and Father of mankind, forgive our foolish ways”.

If unsure, it means “God moves in a mysterious way his wonders to perform.” One thing on which we can all agree. Congratulations to two Harrogate stalwarts of the classroom. A belated well done from this column to Max Mills MBE from the Summer Honours List and to Tim Pocock MBE, honoured in the New Year List for services to education and charity.

As a nervous, newly-appointed Head Teacher I once referred to Tim in a staff meeting ( or so he says) as Tom Peacock.

As I airily apologised he told me, “Not to worry…(pause)…Mr Reynolds…..(pause)……Dave. Tim has made sure the name has stuck. Thanks Tim. Thanks Max. Happy New Year to one and all.