December 2017

The know zone

  • Cold turkey
    Christmas comes but once a year... which is just as well for one head who dreads the forced jollity of scratchy sweaters, Secret Santa and elves dancing to Slade. More
  • Mind the gap!
    Despite all the talk about improving social mobility, Kevin Gilmartin says that the latest data on sixth form university admissions indicates that social mobility is actually getting worse. More
  • Measuring up
    Suzanne O'Farrell shares some tips on strengthening your assessment system to make it as robust and effective as possible. More
  • Primary assessment: the next instalment
    This term has seen the government respond to two major consultations affecting the primary sector: one on primary assessment, and one on the Rochford Review into assessing children working below the standard of the National Curriculum tests. Julie McCulloch picks out the headlines. More
  • Smooth transition
    How do you help pupils during the transition stage? Is your school or college doing something innovative to make the process run smoothly and to gently ease children and young people in? What approaches do you take? Here, ASCL members share their views... More
  • Leaders' surgery
    Hotline advice expressed here, and in calls to us, is made in good faith to our members. Schools and colleges should always take formal HR or legal advice from their indemnified provider before acting. More
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Christmas comes but once a year… which is just as well for one head who dreads the forced jollity of scratchy sweaters, Secret Santa and elves dancing to Slade.

Cold turkey

Christmas is fast approaching and with it the end of another year. I find that working in a school seems to make time travel faster than you would expect (except during a wet dinner duty when 50 minutes can easily seem to last three and a half hours).

The cyclical nature of the school year – summer holiday, first day back, Christmas, Easter, exam season, summer holiday and so on – reminds me of how recent the last occurrence of that annual event seems to have been.

“Christmas card writing time? Surely, I’ve only just finished last year’s!”

Christmas seems to be different every year, though. Not just for the usual reasons, like it having been a lot more fun when I was younger and received presents instead of having to buy them (better to give than to receive, my foot!) and relatives turned up without military planning and the day itself revolved around food, food snacks and more food. It also changes as new things arrive, and not even schools are safe from these invaders.

Nauseating pattern

Christmas jumper day is a perfect example. Fifteen years ago, a Christmas jumper was knitted by an elderly relative and it was a bad fit, had a nauseating pattern or picture on the front and was to be worn only on Christmas Day, only in the house and only for 20 minutes until said elderly relative fell asleep after her third sherry. Now, it appears, they are made of scratchy stuff, sold in shops, make you look like a Christmas pudding or a snowman and have to be worn en masse for a full day, at work.

Being of a prudent nature, I simply refused to purchase one and that worked until last year when my ‘secret friend’ deposited a jumper near my pigeonhole. And it was a particularly scratchy one in the manner of an elf costume with a hood, like an elf. And bells, like an elf. It brings much merriment when worn except, ironically, to the wearer.

Secret Santa is another. First off, he is Father Christmas, although I admit the alliteration does work better with Santa. Second, what is the point in buying a present for someone if they don’t know who it’s from? That’s just an invitation to buy something of incredible cheapness – I find that there is a chap who leaves plenty of such things in the school office on a weekly basis for a very reasonable price – as there is no comeback from the recipient.

If you are the only one who follows this tactic, you are on to a winner. If you take it in the spirit it is intended, however, then it’s another present to buy and wrap and you won’t receive any praise should the lucky person love it.

Animated elf

These things are fine when they take place in telesales offices and on American sitcoms but less entertaining when they are happening to me in real life. I am equally averse to having my face placed on to an animated elf dancing hilariously to Slade and then being sent to everyone in lieu of a Christmas card; they’re not funny and, unlike a proper card, you can’t cut them up for shopping lists. And don’t get me started on Black Friday.

I don’t mean to give the impression that I am some sort of party-pooping cross between Scrooge and that kid off the Polar Express; I still love the magic of Christmas approaching. Nights getting colder, advent calendars, The Apprentice reaching a finale.

I just wish that the build-up didn’t start before the bonfires and sparklers have even got cold. Merry Christmas one and all.

The author is a Headteacher from the North of England.

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 ASCL offers a modest honorarium.