It has been a wonderful week – lots of opportunites and some stunning celebrations. Despite the ongoing wetness of the weather, and the cancellation of sports day and sports festivals, there has been plenty to enjoy and celebrate, all of it with a communal focus.
Top of the bill was the Y6 and Y5’s performance of John Gleadall’s The Button Box. Although the plot of this show is a little thin in places, it has a great structure and tunes that stay with you for days (really!) and there was plenty of opportunity for children to shine. Music hall crows, not-too-drunken sailors, some amazing dancers of many varieties and some great part singing really made the show work. Tuesday night’s performance was glorious, and I understand that last night’s was even better – fuller and richer, and with greater commitment by the actors and singers. For me the highlight was just the sheer level and quality of entertainment shown by these children, and the communal joy they demonstrated in working with each other. Stand up, Mrs Hudson (loud cheers!) for getting the children to dance with each other the way they did. And to all the other adults who cajoled such tremendous commitment from the children – thank you.
Then there were annual reports – hardly a delight, but a sort of communal masochism, with everyone mucking in and doing their bit to write, edit, read, check, print, sign, date, collate and distribute them. My signature always deteriorates this time of year. I am seriously thinking of just using a thumbprint in the future. The reports themselves are vital for us and for parents and children and are fascinating to read; the affection, care and appreciation that our teachers have for the children they have taught is remarkable. In a school of 420-plus, it is the best way I have of learning about children’s progress – it just takes a LOT of reading!
Yesterday was move-up day, with children in their new classes with their new teachers. We didn’t have too many tears, but it was interesting to see children adopting new personas as if they were expecting to be somebody else when they went to their new classes, trying out what it meant to be a year older. There are always risks with new classes, new children and new teachers, and everyone feels slightly uneasy until we have learnt to get to know each other. It can be unsettling for parents as well as the children themselves. But our overall feeling was that everybody had really enjoyed and taken a lot from the experience. These events and changes are the nuts and bolts of what it means to live communally – as Bonhoeffer says, it is the accumulation of individual acts that generate the life of a community together, not grand ideas, as useful as those are in defining the scope of how we want to live together.
Last night I went to a meeting of the Milton Keynes Teaching Schools Alliance – to hear representatives of Two Mile Ash School and the Hazeley Academy, who, along with others, are the strategic partners of this alliance. It was great to hear heads and principals really laying out a clear vision for schools working together not in a competitive way, but really aiming to try and be as cooperative as possible. It is unusual in education, but has to be right. Roger and David Johnson’s work on cooperative learning since the 1980s has really demonstrated in both theory and practice the advances that are made in learning when we work together using a model that supports interdependence, showing, among many other things, that people become more independent as learners when they function in cooperative teams. It is in finding our specific niche in this alliance that will be the challenge for us – leadership of church schools might be one place where we can really make a contribution, but not the only one.
And then we are beginning to collate the outcomes from our end of key stage assessments – the Foundation Stage Profile (up on last year and the year before that) the KS1 teacher assessments (improved on last year and the year before) and the KS2 SATs (published Tuesday, and showing big advances in English) have all given us real encouragement in what they show us about children’s reading, especially for the most able, and demonstrate (partially) the fruit of the work we have been doing together in school since early 2010. Combined with a thorough review on Tuesday on our phonics teaching, there is much to smile about, even if these numbers are not the whole story.
So there has been a strong sense of the blessing of God on our work all term – all year, in fact. As we come to the end of it, we perhaps need to live under the grace of God more – coming to terms with his affection for all he has made, learning that his desires for us are great and good, that the pathway of service and communal care that Jesus taught and demonstrated is or can be of the deepest value in our lives.