As I sipped tea in my study at home during half-term reflecting on what has gone well this year and what we hope to do in the future I was slightly startled to realise that we are now well over half-way through the academic year. This realisation reminded me that while we are planning for the future, the next five years and thinking about our strategic priorities, it is crucial that we remain focussed on the present moment, the now.
As we are all uncomfortably aware, the educational landscape changes at sometimes staggering speed and certainly without much thought as to implementation and impact on the day to day goings on in schools. To highlight just a small number of the most onerous changes faced by all secondary schools at the moment: new Key Stage 3 assessment; new GCSEs with a new grading system and progress measure; new A levels specifications; the shadow of multi-academy trusts; finally, and most pressingly, the new national funding formulae raising concerns around further cuts to school budgets and especially the High Needs block.
All of these will demand a large amount of teacher time and considerable strategic planning if we are going to manage the change successfully moving forward but, if we are not careful, they have the capacity to distract us from the now.
The ‘now’ belongs to the children in our care at this moment and our responsibility to focus on them to ensure not only that they achieve the best academic grades of which they are capable but also enabling them all to develop their God given potential and help them to discover their individual purpose. Surely, living a life that is worthwhile, that is purposeful, should be the goal we all set for ourselves.
Therefore, it is pleasing to reflect on the half-term just gone and remember the opportunities we have taken to celebrate the talents of the individuals in our school: the ‘above and beyond’ tea; awards assemblies; the House Drama; the production of Robin Hood (and subsequent trip to Hungary) to name but a few.
Jeremy Bentham famously talked about the ‘greatest happiness for the greatest number being the measure of right and wrong’. However, this is as misguided a philosophy now as it was then. Firstly, because sometimes people will come to a decision that is not necessarily in their best interests though it may well be very popular. Secondly, because happiness is poor barometer to judge success as it means different things to different people.
If we replaced ‘happiness’ with ‘contentedness’ or what the Greeks termed ‘Eudaimonia’ (in moral philosophy, eudaimonia is used to refer to the right actions as those that result in the well-being of an individual) we might be closer to a useful course. Contentedness, true, deep contentment, comes from choosing wisely, living purposefully, following a path that is worthwhile and productive.
If we focus on the now and what is truly important, rather than be distracted by the unimportant and nebulous, then we are more likely, it seems to me, to achieve lofty and magnanimous goals and aspirations.
So my goal during this Lenten period is to focus on the here and now, to make more time to talk with and listen to students, staff, friends and family because they really are important.
Sean Maher – 20th February 2016