2020 Autumn Term 2

The know zone

  • Children first
    There have been innumerable challenges but could 2020 still turn out to be a transformational year in positive ways, wonders ASCL Primary Specialist Tiffnie Harris. More
  • One Day Isle
    ASCL's new Pensions Specialist Jacques Szemalikowski is on a mission to encourage members to review their pensions. More
  • Lifetime Learning Guarantee
    What is the government's new pledge for lifetime learning? ASCL Post-16 and Colleges Specialist Kevin Gilmartin explores the detail behind the headline announcement. More
  • Checks and balances
    ASCL Business Leadership Specialist Hayley Dunn highlights the learning points for academies from the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) assurance findings. More
  • Reconnecting
    How have children and young people settled back into school and college life and how are they coping with socialising in an era of social distancing? Here, ASCL members have their say More
  • Back to the future
    Headteacher Chris Hildrew is an advocate on ASCL Council for rural schools and single academies. Here, he takes us back to the future and shares his passion for teaching, Shakespeare, Taylor Swift and how Michael J. Fox inspired him to take up the guitar... and buy a skateboard. More
  • A different blend
    Students, their characters and their experiences are diverse. We shouldn't blame ourselves if they turn out to be something other than we had hoped or intended. More
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Students, their characters and their experiences are diverse. We shouldn’t blame ourselves if they turn out to be something other than we had hoped or intended.

A different blend

This time last year, self-isolation and social distancing would have sounded vaguely mournful concepts. The vocabulary of shielding, herd immunity (remember that?) and asymptomatic transmission would have met with puzzled frowns from all except, perhaps, immunologists.

How quickly new jargon becomes embedded. Novices in the world of education soon adapt to a language of pedagogy, teaching and learning, and reflective practice (which the uninitiated may have thought was restricted to ballet dancers). 

IT, of course, has brought us a world of new concepts – browsers (possibly rather seedy in their connotations), servers (if only they did), the nebulous cloud and the alarming occasions when we are told that “a Fatal Error has occurred”. 

In our roles, we carry a heavy responsibility and may well feel that we have made a Fatal Error when our dealings with a student have a different outcome from the one we had planned. Take courage. 

“Once,” said Jesus, “there was a man who had two sons.” 

We know the story: two brothers given the same upbringing took very different paths but ended up in the same place, one resentful and bitter, one restored and forgiven. I wonder what happened next? 

I related to this story as I also have two sons. One is a hipster in Highbury, the other is a hippy in Herefordshire. Both had the same upbringing and opportunities and attended the same schools.

Diverging from the path

If this is the experience within one real and one fictional family, how much more diverse will be the experiences of the students with whom we spend so much of our lives? Do we need to beat ourselves up if and when they diverge from the path we may have hoped they would travel, despite all our attempts within and beyond the classroom to deliver consistency and equality of opportunity?

Tragically, Fatal Errors do occur, but they are few and far between and very rarely entirely attributable to the teaching profession. Nevertheless, it is sobering to reflect on the influence our own teachers have had on our subsequent lives. I had two inspirational English teachers and went on to study English at university. Two of my friends attribute their decision to study French at university to an inspirational French teacher. I sat beside them in the same French lessons for four years and found this same teacher predictable to the point of utter boredom.

In an alien environment where absent-mindedness over handwashing could (exceptionally) constitute a Fatal Error, we owe it to ourselves and to our own health and wellbeing to accept that – much as we would like to – we can’t win them all. 

One of our colleagues may have the gifts and approach that the student we feel we are failing will respond to. Meanwhile, our strengths will complement theirs. The only real Fatal Error is not to try.

The author is a regional finance director in the South West.

Want the last word?

Last Word always welcomes contributions from members. If you’d like to share your humorous observations of school life, email Permjit Mann at leader@ascl.org.uk ASCL offers a modest honorarium.