Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

The last word

The last word

Attending courses and conferences can be a social minefield - what not to wear, how to make a good first impression and whether to participate whole-heartedly in the role play or remain knowingly aloof.

Leafing through my daily post, occasionally I fall victim to a frisson of excitement, tinged with a stab of guilt, as the offer - to good to resist - of a day course or conference springs out. I break out in a glow at the chance to take advantage of "a life-changing experience before it's too late".

It's just so easy to apply. I am no longer surprised to receive confirmation of conferences I didn't know I'd actually signed up for.

As the awaited day dawns, I rise early and excitedly decide what to wear to ensure inclusion and respect as I enthusiastically network later. It is only several miles onward that I realise my socks don't match and I am wearing the tie my son thought it would be fun to hang on the bedroom door, knowing it would be too dark for my sleep-laden eyes to make an effective judgment. Mental note to stop helping him with his GCSE coursework...

Unperturbed I grit my teeth and brave the early motorway madness, wondering and knowing exactly why I didn't opt for the overnight stay. Three hours later I have seen most of the UK's road network, my £1.99 road atlas adorns a hedge somewhere and I have arrived. Second note to brain diary: get one of those colourful little television screens that everyone else has stuck to their windscreens to avoid boredom in traffic queues...

I am of course one thing. Late.

As I arrive it is clear the hotel deserves a four star award for anonymity. I inwardly score several points for being wise enough to not spend last night here. As I register, the fact that I am not expected does little to dispel my optimism.

Entering the room I stumble, drop my folder, improve the colour of my tie with my cup of lukewarm coffee and grin sheepishly at my comrades. Ah! All is well. I have been left a seat. It is of course at the front.

It is time to set the grey matter to receptive mode. The speaker is in full and imaginative flow with bullet after bullet after slide after bullet. This is good stuff. I feel at home as I recognise more than half of the acronyms. The inspiring front man looks beguilingly human, as do those with whom I have the privilege of sharing a table. I am amongst friends. I relax a tad and allow the early morning stress to dissipate. This is a mistake, since just as my guard is down it is time to 'do something active'.

Will it be smelly pens? I always get the scratchy dry one. Or is it bright sticky squares of paper? I can never get them apart. God willing, not a role play. I am simply not ready to embarrass myself in front of total strangers in the name of professional advancement at this hour of the morning.

Phew! All that is expected is a conversation with the victim next to me. Within a few minutes we are chatting amiably. We know where the other is from, the age range and roll of our schools, the distance we each travelled to get here. Neither of us of course has addressed the point of the discussion...

The morning drifts amiably on towards the inevitable relief of lunchtime. The food is the welcome aspect since breakfast was forgotten in the early and unsuccessful rush to be here on time.

However, I make the mistake over lunch of checking to see how things are back at the ranch and I return somewhat distracted by the deputy's decision to suspend a member of staff, exclude four students and invite their parents to a press conference. I do however recognise my duty to the school's CPD budget to get best value from the course.

Therefore, undaunted I chew over the one idea of the day which keeps floating to the top. It has surfaced through casual conversation with a fellow attendee. The more I think the more excited I become. Soon it is with unswerving certainty that I am planning who to involve and how to implement what I am confident will be a significant and lasting improvement to policy and practice back at school. There will be no stopping me, or them.

The afternoon races on and mercifully all seem equally intent on being the first to hit the motorway. A rapid flick of the pen across an evaluation form and a sudden scoop of paperwork and I am on my way.

As I head homeward some unanswered questions drift toward me. Do I know what the course was about? Was it worth going? Will I go on another?

The answers drift even more rapidly to the fore. Vaguely, probably and possibly!

And as for the change in policy? Well, I am pretty sure we would do well to either wash our hands more often or wear gloves when sorting the post. Oh, and yes, let's order larger waste bins...

Allan Foulds is head of Droitwich Spa High School.


The Last Word always welcomes contributions from members. If you would like to share your humorous observations of school life, please email Sara Gadzik at leader@ascl.org.uk We do offer a modest honorarium.

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