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Let’s start the new academic year on a high

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Our #CelebrateMySchool campaign is about championing the brilliant work that happens in schools every day. We want to take a step to address low morale in the sector and celebrate the difference that teachers, school leaders and governors make to young people and society. 

Does anyone remember Max Fatchen’s poem, ‘Look out!’ about the nightmares suffered by countless  people in early September? It ends:

                  And, oh, the screams, the thumping hearts –
                 That awful night before school starts.

I say people rather than children, because I think I was as anxious as a teacher and a headteacher in the days running up to the start of a new school year as when I was a pupil. And of course, I don’t need to remind you: it is now that time.

I hope, like me, you have had a good holiday. This year, my family and I travelled to the east coast of the States for a wedding. Amazingly, my older two (23 and 20 years old) were free to join my wife, myself and their 15-year-old sister on this trip - in contrast to last year when I invited them to Cornwall. Somehow, their diaries were cleared a little easier for this holiday, so the five of us spent five days in New York and then took a train up to Boston for a week in beautiful Cohasset.

[caption id="attachment_5047" align="alignright" width="803"] The Roche family in Central Park.[/caption]

But now, back in reality, my 15-year-old is not sleeping properly and feels ill. She is about to start Year 11. The 'back to school' feeling has struck, and I know that as well as pupils, there will be many heads, teachers and school staff battling the jitters across the country. But at The Key’s office, nearly a hundred people are experiencing that slight tug of nerves you get when you don’t quite know what is coming over the horizon in the next few days. The first six weeks of the school year are always our busiest, when we try to minimise any activity that is not directly about answering school leaders’ questions. Are we well enough prepared?

But but but … please don’t lose sight of the fact that however tough teaching or running a school can be, these are the most life-changing jobs you could have. You really are developing the capabilities of young people. So, to kick off this new academic year, we are running a #CelebrateMySchool campaign – so that headteachers, teachers and all who work in schools alike can be reminded more clearly of the impact they are making.Understandably, the return to school could feel even more daunting than usual this year. School leaders across the country told us that last year was tough: changes to the curriculum and assessment, to mention just a couple of new challenges, made it even trickier for staff to maintain a work/life balance, and they’ve been feeling
the stress. In our annual State of Education survey more than 8 in 10 school leaders think morale in the profession is worse now than it was five years ago. Last year painted a bleak picture of the profession with more new teachers quitting within a year, and more than 9 in 10 school leaders saying their work/life balance could be improved. We know only too well that constant change and a mounting workload make it easy for you to lose sight of just how valuable your work is.

I remember very clearly my teacher when I was about eight. His name was Mr Humby and he seemed ancient. He always wore a suit, usually with a cardigan (of course). He smoked a pipe, even in class, something that was normal for the time. And he taught me more in a year about how the English language worked than I ever learned in such a period again. He read us ‘The Island of Blue Dolphins’ in his low dramatic voice - and we were captivated, desperate for him to continue to the next chapter when he closed the book at the end of the lesson. He was a strict disciplinarian, but always quick to comfort us once we had been punished for something. It’s not too dramatic to say that he changed the course of my life.

Such drama is something I still see taking place on the school visits I so enjoy making as part of my role today. You can see the engagement between teacher and student and the magic that is happening between them. For the teacher, no other job could possibly make up for what happens when thoughts are ignited, abilities crafted, confidence built. I watch heads encouraging and freeing up their staff to perform at their best, setting free the genius that lies within talented teachers … and it is such a pleasure to see.

So, yes, it’s tough being a teacher and a headteacher. But, the toughest jobs are often the most value-producing and this couldn’t be more true than in our schools. We want to help you as much as possible to recognise the impact you are making and to help you #KeepInspiring the young people in your care.

Finally, I can’t predict what nationwide challenges or unique situations you’ll face during 2015/16, whether these will involve more changes to Ofsted inspections or dive-bombing seagulls in the playground (yes, we have answered a question about this). However, I can promise that The Key will be here for you every step of the way – and help you to be there for the people you are leading and inspiring. Right now, let us help you celebrate what you have achieved so far, and will continue to achieve.

Courage, as the French say.

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