Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Ghosts and learning from the past

At five to nine on the morning before I began this blog post, several months ago, the fire alarm went off at school.  A tricky situation to manage as there were children on the playground, children in the loo, staff on the gate, staff in the loo, parents dropping children off and every other shade of first thing in the morning school life one can imagine. 

Nobody could work out why the alarm had gone off.  Office manager & I did a thorough search of the building whilst the children waited outside.  We're a very small village school so we don't have a caretaker. There was no fire, heat or smoke and we couldn't find any evidence of anything wrong so, following a phone call to the fire safety company we use, we made the decision to allow everyone in. The day started, if a little late. 

Lunchtime came and our cleaner, Sally, arrived as she is also lunch server.  We talked about the fire alarm, she had tested them all as usual that morning, it being Monday. She cleans from 6.30-8.30am every morning. I have to drop my own children off at 8am so it's best to have someone on site early and I stay late, most usually arriving at about 8.20am just before she leaves. In our small school every member of teaching staff has keys and is able to lock up, unlock and work the burglar alarm.  In small schools the work of the team extends to every aspect of school life, right down to responsibility for opening up and locking up the building.  Something staff in large schools don't have to think about. 

At the end of lunch that day our cleaner & I started chatting as we cleared up from lunch and she told me about her ghost sightings.  She has only been doing early cleaning for a year so it's quite a new thing.  The previous cleaner retired a year ago and did 3.30-5.30pm  so the school was never disturbed before about 8am. Sally jokingly suggested perhaps the school ghost had set off the fire alarm!  

Early in the morning Sally has seen a glimpse of a school mistress several times in the Early Years room, particularly in winter. On a couple of occasions she has heard a cheery 'good morning' from there whilst she cleaned another room. On looking to see which of us was in so early she found no one there.  Our Early Years room used to be the school hall. Where the fire was lit for warmth in the early days, the school was established in 1857.  Back then the school mistress lived on site in a two storey house where our mobile classroom is now. The school would have been her life and home, not only her work.  Lighting the fire and sorting out the milk just a couple of her many early morning jobs to ensure the care of her pupils. The school is in a small rural village, many pupils would have been up from very early on local farms helping with preparing the daily work of the farm. In the winter months I'm sure that being greeted with that nice warm fire as they came in was very much appreciated by the children. Just as now, ensuring they were cared for, warm, safe and happy. Conditions for learning. 

When I was first Headteacher, almost 8 years ago, the husband of a previous Headteacher, sadly deceased, used to come and visit on the first day of the summer holidays. He came each year to wax his wife's commemorative bench. That happened for the first three years of my headship before he also sadly died.  I looked forward to that day each year as he was so full of stories and so wise.  He had also been Headteacher of a small school.  They had both been Heads during the 1960s.  Some of my favourite chats were about the inspection system.  In his and his wife's days as Headteacher there was a rather different checklist.  He was once told off by Her Majesty's Inspectorate because the hall clock read the wrong time.  'Standards and accuracy should be maintained' he was sternly told.  He also gave me some very wise advice from his and his wife's times as Headteacher.  'Always look after the people Lynne, that's what the job is really about.' 

Later that day it occurred to a member of staff as we were chatting that the laminator might have set off the fire alarm that morning. As the laminator was right under the heat sensor I suspect so! My favourite Occam's Razor. That which is most likely is most often the truth. That is not to say I don't believe in ghosts, I just don't think they conduct fire drills for me! 

I think our school thrives on the shades of our rich history and those who led it in the past. There is a hugely positive feel to our school. In the face of change and budget cuts we have a 'face it' feel. A sense that we have come through hard times before and will do so again. Perhaps I have a stoical 19th century school mistress at my shoulder to help me face the hard times that come my way as a leader.  To help me prioritise conditions for learning and concentrate on who our school is for, our children.  Our people.  

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