While many teaching teams and leaders spend the school holidays lounging on damp beaches, expanding our waistlines on the Great British coastlines, a quiet group of workers are slogging away back at the ranch.
A school without girls and boys is a strange place. Walking around Cottesmore in the middle of the holidays is an eerie experience; the rooms are full of echoes and the ticking of clocks that otherwise can’t be heard over the background hum of term time bustle. Adults who one takes for granted as simply “always being there” are not. The school is essentially sleeping — recuperating — having some much needed shut-eye.
“They are making sure that the lowered pulse of a hibernating school is still ticking.”
Yet there is a group of team members who do not down tools in the holidays. They battle on while we rest. They are the support team: maintenance, finance, operations, secretaries. They are making sure that the lowered pulse of a hibernating school is still ticking.
They are redecorating and renovating the dorms and classrooms and sending communications to the parents and staffroom. They are co-ordinating building works — indeed a new classroom is being installed at Cottesmore as we speak and this sort of project incurs a surprising amount of logistical work. They are mowing the sports fields and tending to the grounds — drawing up the new football pitch matrix for the new season. They are potting geraniums, shearing hedges, managing tradesmen — the huge stone steps from the rose garden to the main pitches have just been overhauled by stonemasons for example. This all requires skill, patience and it goes largely unseen by the term-time-only workers.
“It is a great irony that the groundsmen work away throughout the year only to have the product of their best work enjoyed by so few.”
The relative solitude must be blissful for them in a way, with no staff to pull them this way and that — a period of tranquility and calm. Another benefit especially in the summer holidays is that the grounds look spectacular. To ration the heady olfactory concoction of two-stroke oil and cut grass is tantamount to deprivation. It is an experience that should be maximised for all for as long as possible throughout the year (but of course when combined with a term-time-only icy match tea Pimm’s and maybe a strawberry-based mini cake we are edging even closer towards heaven).
It is a great irony that the groundsmen work away throughout the year only to have the product of their best work in late July and August enjoyed by so few — but what a privilege for those who remain!
It would of course be disingenuous to pretend for the sake of this whimsical article that heads don’t work in the summer holidays. As anyone knows who manages and leads schools, it has been a relentless two years with no respite — with more and more initiatives and directives piling in each day with no time to consolidate the last deluge of regulatory imperatives.
“Spare a thought for the ones who are tending to the slumbering giant and preparing it for the onslaught of another term.”
It was indeed a great surprise on starting as a new head in 2008 to find out that I would be working throughout every holiday and weekends throughout term time; such is the price of running a successful academic boarding prep school (and we wouldn’t have it any other way, of course). Having said that, my wife and I have made a conscious decision to have a “proper” break this summer —working remotely for a couple of weeks from the Dordogne.
So spare a thought for those who are still at Cottesmore and other schools this summer while we sip on chilled rosé in another place. They are the ones who keep the school ticking over during the holidays —the ones who are tending to the slumbering giant and preparing it for the onslaught of another term.
Many thanks to you for letting us all recharge so that we can give of our very best to the children in our care during term time and happy holidays to those who are on them.