Summer, and the fun soothes the end of year pains

10th July 2009 at 01:00

The first came by Bentley Cabriolet, the second in a Lamborghini. Two arrived by helicopter, their exquisite designer gowns glinting in the evening sunshine as they stepped on to the lawn. Three stepped into the flashbulbs from Dad's Ford Mondeo, pink ribbons streaming over the bonnet like a wedding car. My favourite were the six in tuxedos who arrived on a trailer towed by a gleaming tractor.

It was the night of the Year 11 prom. I ought to hate it as much as any other American import, consigning the whole thing to the trash can along with endless repeats of Friends and pom-pomming cheerleaders. In fact, I love everything about it.

I love the way everyone dresses up. I spend five years telling the boys to do their ties up, and here they are resplendent in dickey bows. Here are the staff, shiny in their dinner jackets, posing for photographs in front of the Queen Anne mansion of the hotel.

I love the atmosphere - the air filled with the sense that this is a rite of passage. No matter that the boy leaning against the statue was nearly thrown out last term, or that the only way to get coursework out of the girl wearing taffeta was by surgically removing it. They all made it and are here to tell the tale.

The next day was an opposite rite, but just as important. The Year 6s came for their induction day in preparation for September. We film them as they enter the hall so that we can sadistically play it back to them at their Year 11 leavers' assembly. It is always a startling image of the distance they have travelled in those five years.

I sat with them to watch the Year 10 drama group perform a play about transition that they had improvised. Alex, the new boy, was having nightmares about his first day at big school. The actors brought his fears to life through their improvisations until Superman arrives to save the day. Superman accompanies Alex to school, but all the scenes from the nightmare still happen! "Alex, Alex, Alex!" soothes Superman. "Remember it's just your imagination ... ".

If I'd been a Year 6 pupil sitting there, I would have been immensely reassured by these messages - coming not from teachers, but the very students I worried about. I would have been inspired to think that I too could in future be performing my own play under the drama studio lights. And me? I just felt colossal pride.

Powerful rhythms run through a school year. As we bid farewell to one cohort, the green shoots of the next are already bursting through. A powerful cross-current of hope and pleasure runs through the second half of the summer term, and this helps us deal with the mortars that go off all around us.

Bang! Our fantastic head of RE announced last week that he has a new job. How do I find someone who can teach A-level Hinduism for September? But, hey, I wander down to the field to watch the international It's a Knockout competition. Some 200 kids are cheering on the teams, and all's well with the world.

Boom! Year 9 reports are due, which is bad news for Mr Geography, who teaches four classes and so has more than 100 to write. Still, he goes off with the whole year group on the annual beach clean and marine life survey, buys 200 ice-creams and feels a whole lot better.

Kerpow! It's time for the Government to try to pretend it has some new ideas by issuing a white paper. Now, what initiative will make it look like state schools can do just as well as private schools, panders to the middle classes and is totally impossible to implement? One-to-one tuition!

It's a new idea, except that we are already doing it. It's a good idea, except that it's often better to tutor students in twos or threes. It's a sustainable idea, except that we all know school budgets are about to take a big hit, and we might not feel too good about increasing class sizes to 50 in order to meet a new statutory obligation to provide one-to-one for those who need it.

So let's file that in the boiler room and pop out to watch the Olympics being staged by Year 7 as the culmination of their RSA Opening Minds module. Or wander around the stunning A-level photography exhibition that makes Cecil Beaton look like box-camera man. Or perhaps I'll wait for the art exhibition next week, or have some fun at the summer music soiree and barbecue. I could always smuggle myself on to the expedition that is off to Borneo for the summer, or tag along with the exchange group visiting our partner school in Bangkok.

For teachers and students alike, this is the time of year to forget the relentless exam pressures, the incessant demands for accountability, the latest government attempt to seize the headlines. Instead, let's reach for the sun cream and celebrate all the great stuff that happens in schools at this time of year. Have a wonderful summer.

Roger Pope, Principal, Kingsbridge Community College, Devon.

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