I recently found myself in a gala atmosphere at the Midpoint in Thornbury. The Midpoint is the Agraah's huge banqueting suite and I was sat there in my best suit with the possibility of receiving an accolade in the Telegraph and Argus education awards.
It’s an interesting experience being invited onto a posh night out with peers in your city who work in the same field as you do, savouring the moment, and thinking positively, even whimsically, about the thing that consumes you all; in our case the education of the children of our city. It was a curious experience leading up to the event when you know you have been shortlisted to a group of three and that you might actually win. I thought about the real prospect of not winning and worked through what dealing with that disappointment might involve, but by the time the awards evening came around, I was really hoping I'd win. Selfishly, for my own sake I was looking forward to hearing my name being called out from the platform, but also because I knew it would be good for the school and for our leadership team if we could be acknowledged in this way. A number of colleagues within the school had nominated me for the category of best 'school leader', and I began to realise the many reasons why our school leadership could be proud to have their achievements acknowledged. We had climbed out of the Slough of Despond that was our 'inadequate' Ofsted judgement two years ago. The positive feel in the school since the 'Good' judgement was pronounced in November 2019, is almost tangible and wider recognition within our city, felt like a prospect we could all enjoy.
I have taught in four schools in our city over a career which now stretches back thirty eight years. I started my teaching career at Carlton Bolling, in what was called at the time, the 'remedial department'. From there I taught in a language centre when the local authority used to put all newly arrived immigrant children in a centre for anything from between 2 terms and 2 years, where they could begin to be taught English as a working language before shipping them out to mainstream schools around the city. From there I went to Drummond Road, which at the time (the late 1980's) was a scene of unrest and racial tension. Finally from Drummond Road Middle I handed in my notice to Bradford Education Authority to begin Bradford Christian School. I have always felt part of the education community in Bradford and always thought that we were making a unique contribution to the education of children in our city.
I was fascinated to watch the different categories be announced and to watch the various shortlisted candidates have their ninety seconds of exposure and recognition. Of course, all of them, including myself, had rehearsed what they intended to say, but quite often it was the things not said, but discerned that made the most interesting revelation and drew genuine respect. The two other candidates in my category could have been me. I recognised the same motivating passions, the allusion to similar lonely hardship that all school leaders live through in the course of their journey through their careers. I ended up feeling a real affinity with colleagues, whom I had not met, but who I could so readily identify with.
I was sat on my table with my guests: my wife, who has supported me through all the years of my career, and who has been the perfect companion in all our joint adventures in life; my mum, sat glowing with that painful, sad look in her eyes that communicated ruefully how proud my dad would have been of this moment, had he still been with us to enjoy it; and our Vice Chair of Governors, who had been one of the instrumental colleagues in making my nomination.
And the winner is....'Mrs Sally Stokes from Saltaire Primary.' The moment had gone, and it wasn't me on the platform. It only took a moment to deal with the disappointment and to settle for the realisation that I had been a finalist and that made me, our team and our school, all worthy winners.
As I thought of going back to work in the morning and picking up the 'business as usual mantle', I began to engage again with all the conversations poised overnight in a state of being partly resolved, but which would be concluded that day, the students I would see and the conversations I would have with them, the colleagues who I would go back and pick up working with, the pile of books that would have to be finished marking before period one. I realised that I was looking forward to tomorrow. And I realised that there would be hundreds of teachers in our city doing the same and that because of that commitment, tomorrow would be Ok, more than OK.