How teachers are spreading goodwill this Yuletide

19th December 2014 at 00:00
Staff will spend Christmas Day with pupils and communities

It is Christmas Day. Across the country, everything has come to a standstill. Shops are shut; offices are empty. School gates are closed, classrooms abandoned. For once, even the headteacher is unlikely to pop in, just to check that the building is still standing.

For some teachers, however, Christmas is one of the most important working days of the year.

Mark Oldman is headteacher of Millgate School in Leicester. Many of his pupils have previously been in young offender institutions or psychiatric units. Others have been permanently excluded from school or have experienced high levels of social trauma. Several live in children's homes; others live alone in hostels.

So, on Christmas Day, Mr Oldman and many of his staff will be visiting pupils to make sure that they are not denied some festive cheer. "What we do really came out of us being a bit soppy," Mr Oldman said. "We've got lads who are really lovely but just have nothing."

On Christmas Eve, the student support worker will dress up as Father Christmas and deliver presents to all Year 7 pupils. Another staff member will visit the children's homes where her pupils live, ensuring that they are properly set up for the day ahead.

Mr Oldman, meanwhile, will take one pupil out for a festive lunch with his three children. "If you're not worried about exposing them to elements of your own family life on Christmas, it gives them the idea that they're just as good as everyone else," he said. "My ultimate ambition is that the boys who come through my school are able to hold their heads up high - I want to make them feel as important as anyone else.

"They realise that there are some good people out there who believe in them."

On Christmas Day, Mr Oldman will take gifts of clothes to some of his pupils "so they feel a bit better over the festive period". He added: "You can chuck money at it, but that doesn't really work in terms of emotional investment. We try to cultivate an atmosphere where, if you invest in people, if you strike up a good relationship, that has a good effect later on."

Other children will be spending Christmas with semi-estranged family members, so teachers will visit them beforehand to help them manage any anxiety about the day. Between Christmas and the new year, Millgate will also hold a Christmas party to which pupils and their families are invited.

Millgate staff are not the only ones to spend Christmas Day at work. At the National Star College, a residential college in Cheltenham for students with special educational needs, several pupils are not able to go home over the festive period, so part of the college will stay open and members of staff will come in to ensure that students have a celebratory Christmas lunch.

Meanwhile, in the deprived Manchester area of Moss Side, more than 60 homeless, elderly and vulnerable locals will eat Christmas dinner in the school hall at St Mary's Church of England Primary.

The school's Christmas tree and decorations will be left up, and the home-made centrepieces used for the staff Christmas lunch will have another outing. Several members of staff, including the headteacher and the pastoral manager, Julie Jackson, have volunteered to help with the event, either preparing food on Christmas Eve or serving it up on the day itself.

"We're all cosy at home, and we have our Christmas dinners and our presents," Ms Jackson said. "I just think this is about bringing it back to reality. There are people who are homeless and hungry. That's what Christmas is about: helping others less fortunate than ourselves.

"Our staff is very caring indeed, so it didn't surprise me at all that they volunteered to help. But I think there are an awful lot of teachers out there who do care. They go over and above what they have to do. It's just often in the background and people might not see it."

`People enjoy being together'

About 200 teachers, current and former pupils and local community members will spend Christmas morning at Eastbourne College, attending a service in the school chapel.

"I think people enjoy being together on Christmas Day," says Simon Davies, headteacher of the independent school. "Sing a few hymns, celebrate what we have and give thought to those who have less than us."

After the service, Mr Davies will invite the chapelgoers back to his house for a drink. "A boarding school like Eastbourne is an educational community," he says. "It's not an academic institution. They're very different things, in my mind.

"It's nice for us to be together. It's just a reminder to all of us that communities go on all through the year: 247, to use that awful phrase. There's always something to come back to."

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