We are all so busy we forget about real life - our lives

10th April 2009 at 01:00

Just when it looks like things might be looking up, a big red bus comes along, knocking you sideways. Thankfully, I mean that metaphorically - none of my pupils or staff have been hit by any vehicle belonging to Transport for London.

But I do feel blind-sided and like I'd had the breath knocked out of me, because my husband has been diagnosed with cancer. He is now seriously ill in hospital.

The good news is that, as cancers go, he has a good one to get: it is treatable and curable. He is a big, strong healthy man, so the prognosis is optimistic, but he does need intensive treatment.

I am trying (but failing) not to worry.

Up until the news, the end of term at school had been rather upbeat. It had been a productive period, and although we have been waiting for Her Majesty's inspectors to arrive and decide whether we still deserve our notice to improve - which they issued to us last October - everything had been looking good.

But after my husband fell ill, although my body was present in meetings, I know that my mind was elsewhere. And since his diagnosis of cancer, I have had to take a step back from school and leave my team to get on with it. Yet, I need not have worried about them. I'm glad to say they have taken over without any fuss and got on with doing an excellent job of running the school without me.

I don't know how many times someone has told me not to worry about school but to concentrate on my family. Others have said they forget that we all have a "real" life outside school and my absence brought this home to them.

We are all so busy with the day-to-day work that we forget about real life - our life. However, the events of the past few weeks have reminded me about what I spend most of my life as a head doing at school - managing people and supporting them.

I have more than 220 staff and at least 1,200 pupils. They are all real people with real lives where things can and do go wrong. It is frightening to remember that so many of my staff and my pupils have had family members who have faced similar situations to mine and have had to get through them. I have always done my best to support them, but I guess I thought I was immune to the same circumstances. I convinced myself it was never going to happen to me.

I know other teachers who have been in similar situations have said that being at school takes their minds off their own troubles for a while; they can forget about everything once they become immersed in working with others. The same has certainly been true for me.

As the summer term looms, you can sense the end of the academic year. Public exams are about to begin and the Easter holidays will include a rash of revision classes, alongside the usual fun activities planned at our school.

We are also gearing up our 14-year-olds for Sats. The Government may have abolished them last October, but we have decided to stick with them for this year to show the progress we are making (to you know who). Plus, we decided that it would be unfair on pupils to drop them mid-term when they had been working towards them for three years. However, we will have alternative plans in place for next year.

We are aiming to get a new timetable in place for mid-June, which is real innovation for us, even if it will be a lot of work. We hope this will stop the summer term disaffection - particularly in Year 9 when Sats are over and they have chosen their new option subjects. We can move Year 10 on to start Year 11 and so on and start the new programmes of study early. Another advantage is that staff will get to know the pupils before the summer holidays - and should Ofsted arrive early on in the new school year, as they did this academic year, we will have a better chance of showing ourselves at our best.

When I've been out of school, I have also found myself worrying about this year's recruitment. It is always at this time of year that the resignations come in, and I always get a bit nervous about our chances of finding new staff.

Will we be able to replace those who go with teachers who are equally good? Will the job notices appear in time? I shouldn't worry about such things; we're planning to send our job ads in two weeks early, in any case.

Indeed, I probably shouldn't be sat here worrying about key stage 3 tests, timetables and job advertisements at all. However, no matter what my distress, it really is impossible to put school out of my mind. It is such a huge part of my life and I care very much about what happens there.

Besides, thinking about school gives me something concrete to get my head around. It distracts me for a while because I feel I am able to work out solutions for matters that are under my control - which I can't do for my husband's illness. His health is in other people's hands.

Kenny Frederick, Headteacher of George Green's School, Tower Hamlets, east London.

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