One thing I’ve learned recently about writing and blogging on education: if you want to be widely quoted and vigorously retweeted, make a strong traditionalist statement. And if possible, sound exceedingly grumpy about it.
I should know. A couple of weekends ago my Tes column applauded recent research debunking the idea of delaying the start of the school day in order to accommodate teenagers’ sleep habits. Okay, so my advice to youngsters took the tone, “That’s life. Deal with it!”, but I wasn’t actually irritable.
Nonetheless, my piece was accompanied by a stock picture of me looking uncharacteristically miserable (see above), and the piece gained a fair bit of traction.
Testing the theory
I thought it would be amusing to see what the senior end of my school thought of the idea in an assembly on the following Monday morning. I based my homily on the presumption that at least half of them, being teenagers, would naturally be in sympathy with the idea of starting later.
But hardly a hand went up when I asked they question. I should be gratified, I guess, that they’re apparently so keen to get to school: but it wrecked a talk (not my most inspired one, I confess), which was designed to be relatively challenging on the topic but still light-hearted.
The Chairman of the Independent Schools Council, Barnaby Lenon (a former Headmaster of Harrow School) fared better in many ways when interviewed about his forthcoming book, Much Promise. In it, he apparently castigates dads who want to be their son’s best friend instead of instilling discipline and structure in their life.
Boys should also spend less time on their digital devices, according to another quote from the book. In response, Neil Roskilly (General Secretary of the Independent Schools Association) mischievously tweeted: “My 10-year-old has just emailed me to say he disagrees [with Lenon]”.
This comment reminded me that wrongful use of devices by youngsters is not an entirely new thing. One afternoon some 16 years ago, if I calculate correctly, I received a text at about 2.45pm. It was from my younger daughter, enquiring when I was taking her home that day.
I replied giving a time, and then enquired, “How come you’re texting? Aren’t you in a lesson?”
“Yeah”, came the response. “But it’s only maths. And it’s boring.”
It wouldn’t be so bad, I guess, but for the fact that I was the head of her school. Still, the story ends well: she ultimately became a teacher.
Here comes the fun?
So, for this week, you’ll get no sermons from me on the importance of good quality sleep, nor of early bedtimes and early rising. Nor another criticism of swingeing government cuts, nor yet of all the other perils and pressures facing schools up and down the country.
We’re well into April, and even the hardier schools (including mine) have finally finished term. And none are quite back to it either.
So for a few days, dear colleagues, forget about feckless parents, digitally-addicted teenagers, new GCSE grades and funding crises. Get some sun, get some rest, and have a good one!
For the results of a survey of teacher workload during the Easter holidays, pick up a copy of tomorrow’s Tes magazine. This is an edited article from the 7 April edition of Tes. Subscribers can read the full article here. This week's Tes magazine is available in all good newsagents. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here
Dr Bernard Trafford is headteacher of the Royal Grammar School, Newcastle upon Tyne, and a former chair of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference. The views expressed here are personal. He tweets at @bernardtrafford
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