Ethos, values, aims, objectives, culture. Millions of words have been written on the importance of defining what organisations stand for. All too often perhaps this can feel remote from the reality of the places in which we work. It’s certainly the case that whilst school leaders may (quite rightly) agonise over the exact wording of a mission statement, it perhaps isn’t uppermost in the mind of the NQT with double year 9 on a Friday afternoon. It isn’t uncommon that the vision or values outlined publically on websites or plastered around reception areas, pre-date the current leadership of the school, who perhaps no longer subscribe fully to them. Or vision and values can end up on the do-to lists for governing boards or leadership teams, one amongst many issues to be ticked off. This is not to be critical – there are more important aspects to a school than a mission statement – but it stands to reason that a clear sense of the aims of an institution is helpful. As such, it has been powerful to be involved in the creation of LAE Tottenham and see the way in which our culture, our way of doing things, has developed over the past two years.
Quite naturally the recent prize-giving ceremony celebrating the achievements of our pioneering cohort provided the chance to reflect on these incredible two years with a genuinely inspirational and unique group of students. Not only was it a pleasure to share in their successes, but it also provided the opportunity to hear from local MP David Lammy. He reminded the audience that he’d been waiting twenty years for an unashamedly academic institution to be added to the local education landscape and he certainly wasn’t alone when he said that the successes of the students brought a tear to his eye. And yet the largely academic success that was celebrated on that evening is only one characteristic of the culture of LAE Tottenham. Our Year 12 cohort have swiftly been inculcated into the idea that comfort zones are no place to be sat. I write as their feedback floods in via our first student survey of the year, in which they give their opinions on our shared induction day with Highgate, their visit to Oxford university as well as their partner school visits from last week. I particularly enjoyed the insight of one young man, whose described his partner school experience as “amazing” and whose only complaint was that they didn’t stay longer (he had a fully justified rationale for why they could have stayed longer using TfL journey planner). In short, it hasn’t taken long for our Year 12 students to discover that their horizons will stretch far further than the four walls of their classrooms. This weekend, for a lucky few, they stretched to the stunning environs of the Cliveden Literary Festival and its fantastic range of speakers. The reaction of one Year 13 to meeting her favourite historian (whose latest book happened to be in her bag for the coach journey) was priceless.
Perhaps in an outward-facing sense, this mixture of academia and wider experience define the culture of LAE Tottenham. But for us, central as it is, this has never been the whole story. Equally critical is the sense of social responsibility. Of course this means responsibility to our local community – our programme of nearly forty community projects for Year 12 students is evidence of this, but equally important is the sense that within the school we are a community which looks after and cares for each of its members. Thus, it was heartening to hear our panel of Year 12 visitors to the first Full Governing Board meeting of the year attest to this. It feels especially important in the context of a selective 6th form environment that pastoral and emotional needs are considered. But this description is only partial. LAE Tottenham is not an academic school which considers pastoral care as important. LAE Tottenham is an academic school which cares deeply for each student as an individual. “The place for academic rigour and kindness” as one governor suggested. It was interesting in this context to hear Alain de Botton speak at Cliveden about his work with the School of Life, which aims to encourage a far greater focus on emotional development alongside the intellectual or academic. His ideas provided lots to reflect upon, although I must admit that I have not yet put into practice his suggestion that when meeting strangers, we might replace the question “what do you do?” with “what makes you sad?” or “what are you ashamed of?”. I do however look forward to discussing with our pastoral leaders how we might introduce some of these ideas into our informal weekly house gatherings for students.
Back on safer academic ground though and in the context of social responsibility, it is therefore entirely appropriate that much of the discussion around teaching at LAE Tottenham (alongside scholarship and challenge) focuses on the responsiveness of our teachers – the extent to which we plan carefully for the collection of individuals in our care. Whilst in a pedagogical sense, this isn’t always easy to achieve, in terms of an ethos, it is absolute. We – students, staff, governors, visitors, alumni – are individuals and it is only by creating an institution which is considerate of these individual needs, that we can claim to be a success. It’s such a shame it doesn’t fit neatly into a slogan. “The place for academic rigour, kindness and treating everyone as an individual”. Less catchy I’ll grant you, but certainly authentically us.
30 September 2019