As an English teacher, I am always on the look-out for a good metaphor. The Coronation last weekend provided something that I was immediately able to press into service in my address for the Year 11 Prize Giving on Wednesday.
When I sat down to write some words for Year 11, I couldn’t ignore the extraordinary national and international events that formed the backdrop to their time at the Senior school. The pandemic was the big one, of course but, as if that weren’t enough, in the last five years alone, we’ve had four different prime ministers, a bungled exit from the EU, and war in Ukraine. We’ve celebrated a platinum jubilee, mourned the death of a queen, and marvelled at a new king’s coronation. We’ve engaged in serious discussions about women’s safety, and urgent discussions about race. We’ve seen strikes affecting workers across the country and strikes even closer to home. The climate emergency has intensified; teenage mental health has declined.
During my address to Year 11, I acknowledged the disruption they had endured, and the intrusions they had experienced during their formative years. It has been tough at times.
But my message to them all on Wednesday, as they embarked on study leave ahead of the GCSE exams, was to remind them of the incredible resilience they have shown. Wednesday was a wonderful celebration of the people they have become. While many must have felt angry and outraged at times, they have carried themselves with good humour and good grace. Against the backdrop of all that has happened over the last few years, they have found moments of joy and rich learning opportunities.
“The disruption and the reasons to be angry are undeniable”, I said to Year 11, “but look at what else the last few years have brought you: greater understanding of the issues that may affect you when you join the world of work; a more acute awareness of what it means to truly belong; more refined viewed on the monarchy; and a sensitivity to our colonial past. Your political awareness has been sharpened; your eyes have been opened.”
And it hasn’t just been a one-way street. Think of what they have taught us. Through the way in which they have responded to these life events, this generation has left its mark, not only on our school, but on education as a whole. We talk much more about mental health than we used to, for example; we place greater importance on the child’s opinion and giving them a voice, in helping them tell their stories and articulate their emotions. From September, we will be measured by a new inspection framework that places wellbeing and the students’ lived experience at the heart of everything.
I don’t know about you but, in all the pomp and ceremony we observed over the Coronation weekend, it was the small details that will stay with me – the most amusing one being the schoolboy graffiti on the coronation throne, visible to television audiences for the first time.
Here we have a fitting symbol of the impact each generation can have: the school, like that coronation throne, bears the marks of each cohort. Generations come and go, but indelible marks are left.
As we teach our students, they school us in what matters most to them. Changes, whether seismic or imperceptible, are passed down to the next group coming through.