I don’t have kids, I am not a teacher, I have no ties to the Basingstoke area other than convenient commuter links and I didn’t set foot in a British school for so much as a day during my formative years. It seems a bit odd, therefore, that at my age I find myself on most Monday evenings pulling up a chair in a classroom at Cranbourne Business and Enterprise College, laying out my coloured pens and pristinely kept folder with homework duly completed inside and participating in discussion and debate about issues touching on politics, communications, diplomacy and education. I am also spending a rather larger proportion of time in the Head Teacher’s company than would have been considered a good thing when I was originally at school.
When I completed my last couple of contracts in Somalia and Afghanistan, I decided a spell of time enjoying the comforts of home, catching up with family and engaging in more conventional activities might be a good idea for a few months. It occurred to me that I had been racing around for years in and out of uniform trying to do something to improve life in far flung communities and thought it was about time I put my efforts into something closer to home. I had looked at voluntary work before but never seemed to be in the country long enough or be able to fit it in around other jobs and projects. I still can’t commit to regular slots on a weekly basis but the time commitment required as a school governor is flexible and the timetable for meetings and events is scheduled for the entire school year ahead. Even I could manage this.
So I found myself staring blankly at my computer screen and a long list of schools accompanied by undecipherable icons, Ofsted grades and links to websites around the country. I narrowed it down to the local area (not a fan of long unnecessary commutes) and was drawn by the school offering vocational training as well as the more mainstream academic subjects. Managing teenagers may be a headache for parents, but when you don’t have to be there on a daily basis to pick up the pieces or endure the tantrums, children learning how to become adults and preparing for their onslaught on the world at large are some of the most fascinating young people I’ve worked with before; so a secondary school it was.
Cranbourne Business and Enterprise College has a flourishing art and drama department with extensive facilities and displays of the students’ talents down every corridor. As a former dancer and now a journalist, the school’s attention to less conventional subjects and a recognition that not students will necessarily wish to follow an academic path appealed to me. They are still restricted by imposed curricula and Michael Gove’s seemingly very unpopular legacy left to staff and students to decipher and make the best of.
So far, every board meeting is an education for me. It has its frustrations; I sometimes wonder why those with the greatest vested interest in ensuring the school and the education it provides are managed and run to the highest standard are those who seem to contribute the most reluctantly. Maybe they have been ground down for too long by the process and challenges today’s education process presents and are running out of steam. Maybe the luxury of detachment and precisely the lack of a vested interest leaves me with more freedom and energy to tackle the tougher questions or stakeholders.
For the time-being I am enjoying getting to know the other governors on the board and will hopefully forge links with the departments with which I have an affinity – media studies, music and drama – and contribute where I can. That’s when I’ve got used to sitting back in a classroom, admiring my gleaming new pencil case and spending far too much time in the Head Teacher’s office.