Fireworks: an excellent metaphor for the business of Education in a rapidly changing world.

One of the striking and remarkable cogs in the Claires Court community wheel is our
Parent Teacher Association. I get to sit with the 4 local committee groups through the year (Girls, Junior Boys, Senior Boys, Sixth Form) and am currently privileged to be supporting their collective efforts as they prepare for the Annual Family Fireworks spectacular on Satruday week, the 15 October.  The events starts when the doors open at 5.30pm, parking in our new field (bring wellies for thheaderimg-500x383e walk and torches for the return in the dark) and there are a number of lovely events and side shows happening over the next 2 hours before Star Fireworks set off their first display of the new 2016-17 season. They are the current reigning British Champions of Champions, and we get to see all the new ‘whizz-bangs that have been created for the new display season, fresh delivered from their place of manufacture – China.

Food and beverages are on offer for most of the evening, and your ticket price of £20 for a family of 4 does represent amazing value for an event of this kind. .  The event helps bring to a crescendo the work of our first half-term, bringing the families of some 1080+ children together for conversation and more than a little excitement and fun.

High points of this first half of term include:

  • the launch of the school’s first undergraduate degree programme in Childhood Studies in partnership with the University of Winchester, by distance learning,
  • the senior schools’ Speech Day and as well as the celebration of the many and varied academic and supporting successes of the last calendar year, we went big and bold on the school’s on-going commitment to developing the next generation of scientists, engineers and technologists,
  • welcoming back Mrs Susan Payne, now retired deputy head at CCJB, after the most serious setbacks of life threatening illnesses and operations over the last 8 months, including a replacement hip fitted over the summer break!,
  • successfully launching all new GCSE and A level programmes in most subjects, despite the indecent haste which government has forced this change on the country, and (as predicted and feared) with a worrying lack of publications and support materials in place,
  • developing further our approach at junior school level to bring the work-life balance of pupils and families more into line with the best research evidence showing that younger children need both stretch and challenge along side sufficient down-time and sleep,
  • settling in a new cohort of children and parents, actually moving every cohort up a year and getting the new year under way,
  • and managing (just) to get our new network of coaches and transports up and running in an age when chaos on the roads seems ever more likely.

Low points include:

  • losing a valued senior member of Junior girls staff , Director of Studies Mr Niels Carruthers to pastures new with no notice,
  • losing our Business manager, Mrs Lynne Constantine, who runs our holiday club in a serious bike crash over the bank holiday weekend. Lynne has been rebuilt (left shoulder, ribs and elbow) but will be off for another 4 weeks at least as she faces the challenges of recovering mobility and flexibility in her upper body,
  • discovering that yet more of our local authority RBWM is being outsourced to independent providers, whose services will have no integration with the other education and social care groups that help keep RBWM ticking,
  • and learning from the Education Green paper that even greater expectations are being placed on the Independent schools sector to leverage improvement in the state sector provision for education, for urgent attention NOW.

On the last bullet by the way, Claires Court already provides the largest nursery provision in Maidenhead, the lions share of holiday club cover for working parents, teacher training for 20+ adults within the school whilst continuing to provide world class pioneering support for education nationally in our expertise of using cloud-based services in the classroom. At the time of writing, we have also offered to support RBWM with the development of respite education services for children at the Braywick heath centre, where Harmony education are now established but need examination and invigilation services. It’s a fine mess that arises when all the Pupil Referral Unit (PRU) services in the state sector are shut down to give school all the funding they need, when actually what schools can’t do is support the needs of children whose health and backgrounds mean that a school setting is simply the most inappropriate way of providing. It’s like suggesting that Accident and Emergency services are best place in Care Homes!  Current statistics continue to highlight children’s mental health continues to decline, in spite of families’ best efforts. I am so impressed by the current generation of children, bright of eye and ready to serve, but they continue to be surrounded by a rhetoric aimed at adults which hits their young minds full square and causes mental conflict and confusion with almost every soundbite.

How can you shut down a slideshow that relentlessly shows drowning or bombed children, shattered families, despair of monumental and biblical proportions alongside running the soundtrack of England for the English, Foreigners taking away our birthright, Europe the new bogeyman…

…whilst on the other channel we witness the Trump campaign’s bright idea of putting an AK47 and a poster of Hilary Clinton on sale together on eBay?

Mr Spanswick and Miss Barlow who lead our junior education model are doing their very best to calm down that national and international hysteria down, by leading our thinking along with the other leading schools and countries (Finland and Singapore) that less is more to ensure children develop in a balanced way in their primary years. It’s a hard ask to change gently ease away from a homework lead homelife, to finding greater time for reading, practice, family engagement and the like, and we’ll continue to fettle to get the balance right for each child and home. As Mr Bevis and Mr Rayer are finding at secondary level, our children are up for every challenge, and at that higher level diligent work at home is the required work ethic that is needed, and our new way of looking and reporting on attitudes to learning fits in the same mould. And As Mr Gles and Mrs Rogers make clear on the entry portal of the Sixth Form centre


and you can’t do that if you don’t have established a sense for yourself that the best targets being set come from within, rather than a meaningless score on the side of the hamster wheel that is expected to go ever faster and faster.

We have many former pupils working in the field of camera and film,. most notably Matt Wain ( and Ben Wilson ( , but I have been really taken by the work of a mroe recent graduate Sam Ivin, whose new book of photographic images taken using a photographic record he captured of recent refugees makes remarkable and disturbing viewing: 



Fi Ivin, his mum, was one of those hard working parents supporting Claires Court becoming a better place some 10 year’s ago, and she wrote this to support my interest in Sam’s work:

“I know, I know… it’s REALLY bad form to spam a whole bunch of people with a group email! However, when you are a mother bear and you need to help your cub, even social ostricization seems  to be something one is prepared to go through to help out – and I suppose you find out who your friends are! 😀  I’ve included you in this list because you either know Sam and all he has been through this last year or two or you are someone who is interested in causes – or maybe you were young once and remember how hard it was following your calling.

Sam has been plugging away at his project on asylum seekers (Lingering Ghosts) for 2- 3 years now. His dedication to making the final product happen – the book of ‘Lingering Ghosts’ deserves an award in itself. In particular he has plugged away relentlessly at gaining access to asylum seekers – a fairly soul destroying job at times – agencies are very protective of their clients; when he got access he carted a suitcase of dressing up clothes, Polaroid cameras (remember the old instant pictures?) up and down the country to centres to engage with asylum seekers in the hope of getting photos and interviews – not all of them willing to have photos taken or to give interviews their situations are so delicate;

. About 22 of his pictures are being exhibited in Athens in June and possibly in Rome in October. He has worked to get a UK based exhibition and written an excellent proposal  but probably needs a sponsor with funds (such as the RSA) to make that happen.

Most of this  – apart from Italy and the book production- Sam has had to fund himself. Running workshops at centres, his travel expenses, purchasing Polaroids, dressing up clothes etc has all been done at his own expense and he has to pay to enter competitions. He currently earns a small amount taking pictures of group days out at a Segway track nearby and occasionally does some event work in London.

A limited number of copies of ‘Lingering Ghosts’ has been produced (500) and Sam has a small number (20 or so) remaining on his site for sale. They are £20 each For each copy sold we are going to contribute £1 (and will top it up with  more to make it a worthwhile amount) to one of the charities with which he worked:    ‘Solace is a Leeds’-based charity which provides psychotherapy, complementary therapies and advocacy support  to the survivors of persecution and exile living in the Yorkshire and Humber region, many of whom have been traumatised by torture, rape, the death or disappearance of loved ones and often combinations of all of these and other atrocities.’

You may not want to buy a book but if you have a connection who might be a way of Sfiiving-contact-infoam acquiring funding for an exhibition or worthwhile work – journals and projects not weddings! — He’d probably be interested. He has been pretty full on with this and it’s been exhausting for us all in various ways so definite possibilities preferred please to avoid more overload. Thank you for taking time to read this. I know it may be a longshot – but thank you.”

I think we all know if we are going to make a difference, that’s a personal choice we have to make, not just something to nod at and pass by on the other side of the road. In the work and play that our pupils, past and present, show, I hope we can demonstrate that there is a better, more careful way of making the world a better place, and that as a result, we can enjoy the crash, bang, wallop of fireworks once or so a year, knowing full well that we can’t live at that frantic pace and make the change for the country at large that people would wish for our futures.

About jameswilding

Academic Principal Claires Court Schools Long term member & advocate of the Independent Schools Association
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