The Head's View - Put the personal into your awards

Ray Tarleton

When I established my leadership team, we believed we could make history; well, local history at least. Such is the nature of self-delusion.

We began by reviewing everything the school does and considering its effectiveness. On our list was the annual awards evening. How the heart sank at the thought. So much applauding; name after name with only an odd stumble or outlandish hairstyle for relief.

My big idea was to have something said about each award winner to fill the gaps between their first steps on to the stage, the handshake with the speaker and their exit on the other side; to make it less like a conveyor belt. Instead of the endless streams of applause, we would hear something of individual achievements and character, showing how well we knew them and how much we cared.

First we had to collect comments about the 350 Year 11 and 13 students receiving certificates and prizes. This proved frustratingly hard. Scripts were finally ready three hours before the ceremony; no time to rehearse.

The comments were supposed to cover just the walk across the stage. But as the first student returned to her seat, her head of house was only part-way through her eulogy. Several winners could have walked to the nearest village and back in the time taken to speak of their achievements. I desperately mimed speed-up gestures, only to find the spotlight suddenly on me. I pretended to scratch my head.

The next announcer had clearly never before used a microphone. The effect was odd, as Deep Throat - all bass and volume - blasted through his list. I made a mental note to do voice coaching next year.

Fortunately, the comments held the attention: "Henry is the heart throb of the lower school. He shows real concern for other pupils, especially girls." The female guest speaker, a university professor, cautiously smiled at our Brad Pitt.

Next: "Alison is always polite ... as long as you never tell her she's wrong." The speaker avoided engaging her in conversation.

Then: "Jack never let school get in the way of education." "You can see that by his dress," whispers a governor next to me. "Have the parents no control?"

It's long past my bedtime when the speaker finally has the floor and wows us with some genuinely personal insights. The highlight? A David Blunkett tale that involved his dog, its poo, three local school truants and a very assertive minister.

The next day all the talk is of success. Despite the length of the ceremony, everyone loved it. A remarkable range of achievements was celebrated. Perhaps we made history after all.Ray Tarleton, Principal of South Dartmoor Community College in Ashburton, Devon.

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Ray Tarleton

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