Don't fret new stars will fill the black hole

27th July 2007 at 01:00
Do you have a key member of staff who is leaving at the end of term? Have you replaced them? Sometimes it will have been easy enough job description, advert, interview. But suppose the person who's leaving has carved out a unique place in school life?

I've seen many lovely folk like that over the years. People like John Herbert, long-serving deputy at Haslucks Green primary in Solihull. He had the whole school switched on to birds and wildlife. Or Averil Bonsor at St Giles junior in Warwickshire, single-minded driver of a bhangra dance group that was the pride of the community and a favourite at business dinners and weddings across the country. Or Tony Bailey, who is retiring from Falcon middle school in Norwich, a music teacher of rare talent and enthusiasm, founder of the school's opera group and marching band.

There are many more, each one bringing something special not just ticking a box but adding a whole dimension to the life of a school and its children. Parents tell me how their children have been given new confidence and skills just by having contact with someone like John, or Averil, or Tony. Heads tell stories of children rescued from disaffection. The teachers, though, are working to a longer agenda, mindful of their own lifelong passions.

When I wrote about him a couple of years ago, John Herbert said: "I hope what children learn will have a knock-on effect when they are older. We're giving them the ideas now that will help them in later life."

Sounds simple enough. But really it's the greatest aspiration a teacher can have. When someone like that leaves, what do you do? Do you place an advert saying, "Must be capable of continuing our long and illustrious record of success in the international conker championships"? There's only one answer, isn't there? As one head, contemplating the end of a very individual group that's appeared at the Schools Proms, puts it: "It wouldn't be right to see it become a shadow of its former self. It's time to move on in other ways."

What can seem for a time almost like a bereavement will, with proper leadership, provide space and light for other colleagues and children to blossom.

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