Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

Put your best foot forward...

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Tim Andrew embraces the spirit of global friendship at the Chinese New Year celebrations at his school in Beijing - by leading a Scottish reel in front of 500 people. Not bad for a man who can't dance.

It's mid-January and the Chinese New Year, or Spring Festival as it's called here, approaches. (Spring? It's about minus 15 outside.) It's the ox this time, and tradition says that people born this year will be strong leaders.

The Spring Festival is the big celebration for the Chinese, the one time of year when families try to get together for the reunion dinner on New Year's Eve. Millions of migrant workers return home, and the scenes at bus and railway stations and airports are unbelievable: over the period of the festival a number of people somewhere adjacent to the population of the whole of Western Europe is on the move.

At school we are preparing to close down for four weeks. We have a two-semester year with one long holiday between the two. There are all the normal routines and deadlines of exams, marking and report writing. But, far more important is the preparation for the school's Spring Festival party, a binge whose scale and significance in the school calendar are calculated to stagger humanity.

Essentially it's a show put on in front of all the school staff and 'friends' in the vast hangar of the sports hall, which is converted into a performance venue, with all the necessary sound and lighting fixings. There are dragon dances, choirs, bands, songs, every kind of entertainment. It's a do-it-yourself show, of course, and all the parts of the school are expected to put on an act.

It is with some trepidation that I divulge at this point that five days after writing this piece your correspondent will perform the Reel of the 51st Division and the Gay Gordons in public - not in gentle anonymity in a crowd of dancers but in front of an audience that at a conservative estimate will be about 500. It scarcely bears thinking about, and I'm trying to plead a groin strain, only they won't listen.

As far as dancing is concerned, former ASCL presidents seem to comprise two sorts: those who cannot bear it and those who think a night not spent dancing until dawn is a night wasted. There is a strong gender correlation between the two types, to which I contribute: I can't dance, I don't dance, I won't dance.

Here in China, I am leading the school's international centre, so our turn has to be international. The dance teacher - Chinese - has therefore chosen Scottish dancing, except she's only ever seen it on video and we had no music until I went online and did some canny MP3 downloading. So this mixed group of Chinese, mainly, plus an Australian, Austro-Canadian, Russo-Canadian, two English and an Anglo-Scot (me), has been skipping and walking round the movements with no music to the accompaniment of a woman barking 1-2-3 at us in Chinese, while my shaky recollection is that the dances are in four-time.

It's about 500 years since I did any Scottish dancing - my Scottish father played the fiddle (rather well, actually) and contrived to hide himself in decent obscurity at the back of the band, a cunning move for a man as enthusiastic about dancing as me - but I can remember enough to know we're doing it wrongly and that once they hear the music the confusion will be so utter that five months would not be enough to get our act straight, never mind five days.

Sadly, the routine will probably be on U-boat shortly, and as principal, of course, one is put in pole position...

Who was that idiot who tried to pretend that school leadership is all about learning and teaching? Where does the capacity to make a complete prat of yourself in public while smiling serenely feature in the National Standards?

Tim Andrew was ASCL president in 2004-05 and a head in Buckinghamshire until 2006.

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