It must be 20 years since I last took a full half-term holiday. As a young teacher the half-term break was an essential staging and recovery post on the journey from the start of the term to its end. As a senior manager now with only 30 days annual leave, you learn to ration carefully across the year any spare days not consumed by the annual family holiday.
Last week though, I took the full five days. I thought that I, and the people who work with me and for me, needed it.
One of the things I planned to do was re-read again my favourite book, Robert Pirsig’s 1974 classic Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. It’s long enough, engaging enough and challenging enough to serve you well on a desert island, or on a half-term break. It also has three of the key themes that are preoccupying me at the moment.
Firstly it’s about a road trip, a father-and-son bonding trip. Since I’m in the middle of a three month spell volunteering to act as a single parent, that’s of interest to me. Motorcycle maintenance, I’m afraid, has less of a pull on my emotions.
Secondly, the backdrop to the story is one of madness and mental health, and the emerging question of whether the author’s hard-won sanity is really less mad than when he was sectioned and hospitalised and taken away from his family.
And thirdly, and essentially, the book is about quality. It is an investigation into the nature of quality, firstly in the context of the writer’s job as a teacher, and then as the “continuing stimulus which causes us to create the world in which we live.”
Bonding, madness and a bit of quality: seemed like a good plan for a half-term break.
In the event, we did do a bit of road trip bonding ourselves. Granted, most of the trip was on a stationary exercise bike in the local sports centre, but we did have half an hour each day shifting through the gears while Rihanna pouted to her 30 Top Chart Hits. One afternoon we hit the Snake Pass instead on the way to a uni Open Day but first had a 50-minute wait for a man with a Green Flag and some jump leads. The Art of Motorcar Maintenance should have been higher up my list of priorities.
Bonkers is an overused word in our sector. It usually refers to changes in funding rules or funding rates or other strange impositions made on the sector by those who should know better but pretend they don’t. Sometimes our response is more dysfunctional than the stimulus. A 17.5% cut in funding for eighteen year olds rightly brings universal indignation, but a further 19% cut for Adults in the Skills Funding Statement is met with hardly a murmur of resignation.
And then to Quality. My Twitter TimeLine was buzzing with reports of the meeting between the Ofsted National Schools Director @mcladingbowl and a group of the most followed (and least well-dressed!) tweeters from the school sector. To grade or not to grade, that was the question. Cladingbowl clarified and confirmed that Ofsted Inspection guidelines for schools are that individual lessons and teachers should not be graded. Ofsted Inspection guidelines for colleges are that individual lessons and teachers should be graded. Bonk…
In the meantime, it’s back to work again – feeling 20 years younger…