Of all the memories I have of my schooldays the one that sticks
out clearest in my mind is that of walking away from school on my
very last day.
A mere 16 years old, I walked down the drive, stopped at the gate,
turned around and looked at the pile of bricks and mortar that was
the institution that had occupied the last 11 years of my life -
and I remember thinking, with some considerable relief, "That's
the last I'll ever see of a school".
Oh, not that I didn't enjoy my schooldays - far from it, I have
very fond memories of my years as a schoolboy - but I felt I was
ready to move on, to be treated as an adult, to make my own way
in the world.
It's therefore entirely ironic that I should, some three months
later, find myself back in school - although this time they called
it a college. It's even more ironic that after leaving college some
two years later I found that my life was to be inextricably tied
to schools via the nature of my work.
Sometimes it feels like I've spent more time in schools since leaving
than I ever did as a pupil!
And so it was, some six years ago, that the wheel turned full circle
and I had to study the options for my own son's education.
Choosing a school for your children has to be one of the most important
choices you'll ever make, and when you find the establishment that
best meets your criteria you can be forgiven for being over-enthusiastic
to the point of making rash promises in order to ensure your offspring
secure a place.
I can't recall precisely what I said to the head teacher at my son's
school, but I can bet it was along the lines of "I'm not one
of those 'leave it up to the teachers' kind of parents - I want
to get involved".
So I shouldn't really have been that surprised that I was taken
at my word when, a few months later, the head called me up and 'informed'
me that they wanted to vote me onto the board of governors.
Ah, what a peculiarly piquant feeling - the realisation that one's
carefully crafted rock and roll image lies in ruins, coupled with
a rather agreeable notion of having achieved respectability. This
must surely be how people like Sting and Sir Bob Geldolf must have
felt...only without the money.
As part of my duties as a parent-governor I have to sit in on lessons
and evaluate the staff's performance. The drawback to this is that
as soon as you set foot inside the school you're seen as a potential
'resource' - and you don't get to be a good teacher without knowing
where and what your resources are, so it wasn't long before I was
asked to 'consider' sharing some of my expertise with the pupils
in the form of an informal lesson.
Why the 'quotes'? Well, when you're on the receiving end of the
head's Basilisk-like stare it tends to transport you right back
to those days when you were but a mere whippersnapper, and teachers
were something to be feared. Of course, I'm all grown up now (allegedly),
and I know I can't be given detention or made to write lines...
but I can certainly find my committee meeting biscuit ration withheld,
or worse still, being given the job of writing a school policy on
politics in the workplace.
So, naturally, I agreed.
The pupils were building their own musical instruments, and it was
felt that I could add to their understanding by explaining exactly
what 'sound' was.
It all seemed so easy - as a musician I have an innate understanding
of what sound is, and I'm here to tell you that it's...er...well,
it's sound, isn't it. I'd never really had to consider the matter
before - and certainly not in the context of a bunch of children
who wouldn't have any truck with such terms as 'resonance' and 'acoustics'
- I had to find a way to simplify a complicated topic that I'd never
really thought about.
And so it was that I turned up at school with my box of bits and
pieces and my heavily edited notes....most of which comprised lengthy
technical explanations drawn out deep into the night, crossed out
the next morning and replaced with 'bang wood with mallet...makes
noise... this is sound!'
I figured it wouldn't be so hard really, but then I'd never faced
a class of 15 eight year old children and tried to maintain their
interest whilst commanding all the due respect my age and status
I tell you, teachers live on a knife-edge. It's not that the kids
are actively looking for cracks and flaws, it's just that if you
display any they seem to naturally home in on them. And it's not
that they're malicious either (or am I being naive here?), they
just have a knack of asking the most atrociously awkward questions.
I quite fancy myself as an Orator - I can quite comfortably picture
myself at the Old Bailey, giving forth to the jury with such classic
phrases as "..and I put it to you, learned members of the jury.."
and ".. are we SERIOUSLY expected to believe..." - and
yet in front of a class of little children you simply don't have
that option. If you dare to try it you'll be met with blank stares,
muffled giggles, and always, always one cheeky little sod who'll
say "Wot you talking about, mister?"...or the incredibly
disarming "You're so-and-so's dad, ain't you?".
So I banged on my bits of wood, scraped bits of string, blew into
various pipes and tubes in an effort to show the children what sound
was - and all the time thinking how much better I'd be with a pint
of beer at my side and a ciggy on the go.
I found that I had to constantly re-evaluate my lecture on the fly.
You can start off with the best intentions of talking about how
vibrations pass through the air and get translated into sound in
the ear, and end up splashing about with jugs of water (which was,
I admit, lots of fun).
I think they got the gist of it though - they certainly seemed happy
enough, but then this might have been simply down to the fact that
watching so-and-so's dad make a fool of himself was much more fun
than listening to their teacher - who had it all wrapped up years
ago, and had more snappy comebacks than a good stand-up comedian
on a bad night.
It comes to something though when the teacher gets up after your
half hour of waffling, thanks you for the lecture, and then neatly
and succinctly summarises all the relevant points in two sentences.
I had to resist the temptation to pipe up with "Ah yes, that's
what I meant to say, of course".
But I'm proud to be associated with the school - and proud that
other people would consider my opinions as to how such a place should
be run to be valuable.
The school itself, West
Meon Primary, is a charming rural church school set in the heart
of the West Meon Valley. By any standards it's a small school, with
a mere 70 or so pupils - and yet this belies the standard of education
that it achieves. I'm not being flippant when I say that it's one
of the very best schools in Hampshire - if not the UK... and that's
a hefty statement backed up Ofsted, the government's own benchmark
for educational standards. That's a simply incredible feat, and
one that reflects the dedication and hard work that both the staff
and the governors put into it.
It shows too in the atmosphere at the school - it's something you
can feel when you walk into the school. There's a sense of pride
there, a quiet (well, OK, not always quiet) dignity, a feeling of
mutual trust and respect - and a benevolent, vibrant energy that's
built around nurture and encouragement.
If there's a drawback to the school it's that it's somewhat cramped.
Indeed, at the school's last Ofsted report this was the only area
in which the inspectors felt matters could be improved - and that's
a quite an achievement given the fact that the school was built
over 150 years ago to service a fraction of the pupils it manages
As a governor it falls to me, and the rest of the governing body,
to take on board the responsibility of improving the school - which
means raising a substantial sum of money to build a small extension
onto the school. This will be no mean feat, considering the structure
of the school with its flint-built walls, and the relatively small
parent base to pump for donations. But we're committed to try -
and with two children at the school and another joining in four
years time I have an awful lot of incentive, coupled with a firm
belief that establishments such as these have to be preserved for
the future of all our children.
You'd think that, considering the achievements of the school, the
government would be jumping over itself to wholly fund such an improvement
- but it doesn't appear to be the case, unfortunately.