Packing up my memories

Retirement has arrived. I've been clearing my room in preparation for the new head and it's like moving house. I'm amazed at how much stuff I have accumulated, and all of it holds precious memories.

I start with the large cupboard, sifting through the documents from the local education authority and the Department for Education. I've kept things reasonably up to date, but it's surprising how much can go in the dustbin. As successive secretaries of state have made their marks, fresh documents churned out by their armies of civil servants have arrived. I've lost count how many times Ofsted has changed gear. In its latest incarnation, it's even making teaching and learning an inspection priority. Fancy.

The bottom half of the cupboard contains apparatus and chemicals that I've used for science assemblies. Years ago I could set magnesium ribbon alight, fire a carbonated rocket across the hall, show how a potassium ball scoots on the surface of water. These days I have to issue hard hats and protective clothing if I want to connect wire to a battery.

I take the photographs down from the wall. Our first violin group, playing with frozen fingers to an appreciative audience at London's Globe theatre at Christmas. Our current school orchestra: 40 children who arrive early on Wednesday mornings and play music ranging from Mozart to modern. Photos of staff past and present: people with a passion for primary education and who have been such a pleasure to work with.

I move to the large noticeboard on the other side of the room. It's covered with letters from past pupils, teachers, visitors. All express joy and gratitude for what they have experienced at Comber Grove. Some of the writers are now heads themselves, influenced by what they found here and determined to create a similar ethos in their own schools. As I take them down, I find the ones at the back have faded and are barely readable, reminding me how long I have occupied this room.

I empty my bookcase, where I keep the stories I read to children. At least this is one thing that hasn't changed over the years. Children may be tech-savvy now, but they are still thrilled by the tale of Baba Yaga the iron-toothed witch, or the tablecloth that prepares a feast on demand.

And here's the pile of books that I choose from to read to the nursery every Thursday morning. How I shall miss that session, and the pleasure of watching the children's faces when I act in character and put on lots of funny voices.

Here's the box of tools I often use to mend the youngest children's scooters and trucks, or the flat-packed mini kitchen units that need putting together when they arrive from the manufacturers. I hope the new head is keen on DIY, too.

In a dusty corner lies a magic kit I had forgotten about. My first assemblies after Christmas always contained a few conjuring tricks and the children loved them. Mind-reading and astounding card tricks for the juniors, strings of silk handkerchiefs produced from an empty hat for the infants. I shall miss doing that in January.

And last of all, a tiny, hand-crafted basket, beautifully mounted in a glass frame and given to me by a Maori teacher. Translated, the inscription reads: "Comber Grove is truly the basket of inspiration."

Long may it remain so.

Mike Kent is headteacher at Comber Grove Primary, Camberwell, south London. Email:

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