When the battle against closure of my son’s secondary school was eventually lost in 1988, I saw a possibility that I might, as Chair of Governors, be asked to make a speech at the final assembly. I began to draft one, but it ended up as something quite different, more like a personal testament. It is true and heartfelt, and definitely part of the story of my life. But I wasn’t asked to make a speech!
I was a student at The School rather longer than most – ten years to be precise. When I entered its doors at the same time as my son in 1978, I little thought that I would, in a manner of speaking, end up as ‘head girl’. Nor could I imagine that, at the height of its success, the school would be earmarked by County Hall for closure.
The School was just a name on a list to me when the youngest of my four sons was due to transfer from primary school. He was unwilling to follow in his brothers' well-trodden footsteps at nearer schools, and said we should look at this one, even though it was away in a neighbouring village. We looked – we were hooked – we signed on, and my son began the normal process of secondary education. As this was the ninth school with which I had been associated over the years, I decided it was high time for me to contribute something , and I offered my services to the Parent Teacher Association.
Thus began a whole new career for me, starting as a simple kitchen assistant at school functions, moving through PTA secretary and parent governor, and ending in the Chair of the governing body as a Local Authority governor. The way took me through fairs, markets and music halls; making Christmas decorations for dances; writing a termly newsletter for parents; drafting a PTA constitution; creating publicity displays; and raising £6,000 in ten months for a new minibus. It also brought me the schizophrenic experience of campaigning vigorously against closure of the The School, while at the same time working closely with another governing body towards creating a new amalgamated school, in case the inevitable happened.
I learned about organisation, administration and planning ahead; about committee procedure and running a meeting; about writing minutes, reports, and letters to the press, and about speaking in public. I learned about tact and diplomacy (I hope), confidentiality, carrying responsibility, and catching the buck when it stops. I learned about the workings of County Hall, and discovered that the ‘faceless bureaucrats’ of the education service are real people, who eat lunch and crack jokes from time to time; and that county councillors have to have tremendous stamina and commitment to carry out the work of the Authority. What I failed to learn, alas, was to delegate, to be brief, and not to worry!
I think I can fairly say that during my years at The School I did as much learning as any of its pupils, and if they had half as much fun, and gained as much benefit, as I did, I am truly thankful. The School was like a second family to me - a family that was happy and successful, because like all happy families there was love and dedication at work there. When The School finally closed, and like the younger students I too had to move on, I hoped that I, as well as they, would find new opportunities to learn, to succeed and to be happy.