07 June 2021

The Monday Briefing: Fixing a Hole

The Monday Briefing: Fixing a Hole

‘The Head has overall responsibility for the running of the School including its marketing, the appointment, management and dismissal of staff, business and financial administration, strategic planning and formulation of policies for the approval of the Board of Directors...the Head is responsible for the day-to-day management of all other aspects of the School.’

This excerpt from my contract gives a general idea of the responsibilities of my job. 

Evidently, from the wide and varied details explained above, my role is complex and has many facets. This week, more than perhaps any other, provided one particular instance confirming the need to approach the position with a certain amount of flexibility.

At present, the College is running our second set of formal assessments to help us formulate Teacher Assessed Grades, and, as part of this, we have afforded private candidates the chance to come and undertake these. A great deal of work has gone into these: timetabling, compilation of papers; arranging of invigilation; marking and deployment of results. When adding the need for regular testing during the ongoing pandemic for all staff and students, it has made this a monumental task.

With such a challenge, the addition of further issues makes the staging of these even more difficult. One can cope with most problems: latecomers to the exam can wait and then have regulations read to them before they go in; a forgotten calculator can be remedied by loaning equipment to the careless candidate; even an off-day for a student can be off-set by the fact that we’ve created two sets of assessments to give them the best chance to provide evidence of their abilities. It is the issues which emerge outside of one’s control, and are difficult to apply contingency plans for which truly test the ability of the Principal. 

Tuesday put me in a truly unique bind. 

Just before the 9am, noise started to emerge more befitting of the New Orleans Mardi Gras or Rio Carnival rather than a warm weekday morning in Ealing. Drums, whistles and air horns blaring, I went out to investigate. Outside the council headquarters, a small but determined group of protestors were waving flags and voicing their discontent vociferously at the treatment of their fellow workers by a contracting company on behalf of the local authority.

Obviously such a situation needed action, and swift action at that. Inaction could easily have put paid to our first exam of the June sitting, and I was certainly not keen to be playing catch-up or utilising reserve days when we have a tight schedule to keep in terms of marking and results submission to the exam boards. 

Exploratory calls to the police yielded nothing: they had a right to protest, even if they were causing somewhat of a public disturbance. I had to take the bull by the horns, and solve it myself. It was an example of an ‘other aspect of the day-to-day management of the School.’ 

Trying to get myself heard amongst the tumult, I asked to speak with the representative, explaining the situation to her.  Several students are sitting exams this year having missed out last year - their futures are at stake, and anxiety is heightened because of this. She, in turn, expressed their point of view. Their coworker had been, in their opinion, targeted and wrongfully dismissed for standing up for better rights for their peers. 

Negotiation seemed the only way forward. I asked them to halt the air horns during exam hours, providing a timetable of when we needed a pause over the next few weeks. They could drum and chant all they wanted - it was the high pitched blaring which was causing the issues. When exams were over, as far as I was concerned, their ‘wall of sound’ could be unleashed - until the assessments started again in the afternoon. To my relief, they adhered to my pleas, and did so with good humour. I was thankful for the mid morning silence as candidates beavered away in the exam rooms and then smirked during my lunch retrieval as an almost deafening cacophony graced Ealing Broadway.

The sensitive compromise deal almost collapsed when a group of vigilante year 11s tried to take matters into their own hands in a rather prickly and rude manner later that day, but I was able to offer apologies and reassurances to the protest party that I would not allow a repeat of such an occurrence - whilst I made it clear in no uncertain terms to our GCSE cohort how much I understood their frustrations, but that they needed to trust me to get the job done.

It is in such unpredictable and idiosyncratic circumstances that one is tested, and that one often takes a great deal of pleasure in succeeding. I was determined that nothing would undermine the plans we’d put in place to support our students - and though people have a right to express themselves, they should also be armed with the facts so that they can carry out their actions in full knowledge of the circumstances. I wasn’t to know the protestors would be reasonable people who listened and were considerate - and it says a great deal for them that they were.

Perhaps my key takeaway from this whole episode surrounds my concerns regarding community policing at the moment. 

When I was growing up, I remember a presence of ‘on-the-beat bobbies’ conversing regularly with the local community. They would give sought after cards to young children, which built up a sense of respect for the role they carried out. They knew their areas, and they would often preemptively stop problems when they arose through discussion and parleying. 

Now it seems that the police are indeed an ‘emergency service’ only. They will only act when a crime has been committed, and it is too late to undo the damage. I understand that resources are thin and numbers have dropped in real terms over the last few decades, but I rarely see police community support officers, brought in for this very task, in a visible sense. I believe that most people would favour a more human touch to crime prevention, as opposed to officers behind desks. Though some articles disagree like 'More “bobbies on the beat” are unlikely to reduce crime' by Benoit Guerin, statistics used in the same piece provide an uneasy relationship between police officer reduction and a rise in misdemeanours.

Boris Johnson stated that “more police on our streets means more people are kept safe” when appealing to be elected as Prime Minister late in 2019. It is a pledge which Johnson really needs to deliver on as society and communities aim to come back together following the pandemic in the months and years to come.

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