I had the pleasure of listening to a new headteacher give a talk about his first year in the job the other day. He was really good – funny, engaging and open; he had made a clever PowerPoint presentation and his talk was full of humility and humour. For a tiring old stegosaurus like me, it was a refreshing reminder of why we all chose to do this job in the first place.
About half way through, however, he said something which occasioned me to clasp my hands to the sides of my face and drop my jaw in the manner of that emoticon which is supposed to mimic The Scream by Edvard Munch.
He was making the point that, when he arrived at the school, he had found a huge amount of redundant stuff cluttering the cupboards. Nearly all schools seem to suffer from this collective desire to hoard things – usually in lever-arch folders under the pretext that they are ‘great resources’ which ‘might come in handy’ at some point in the future. The likelihood of this point ever being reached is slim at best, given that the previous twenty years have resulted in nothing more than the addition of a layer of dust. The reality is that teachers these days find what they need on the internet. (“Where did you find that?” I asked one of our NQTs, who was using a really thought-provoking technique in maths recently. “It was on Facebook,” she replied.) But despite the presence of both evidence to the contrary and the internet, we teachers love to hoard.
Anyway, back to our young headteacher friend. To illustrate his point, he told us he had ordered several skips and still not got rid of it all.
“I even found a log book which they had kept from 1838!” he said, rolling his eyes, before returning to his theme of filling skips. That was my Edvard Munch moment.
A school’s log book is a precious thing. It is, as it sounds, a written record of events on a day to day basis. Usually just a line or two about each day – a key meeting or an interesting assembly; a staff appointment or an important visitor. Every school should have one. It can usually be found in an office cupboard, even if it has not been maintained in recent years. In some schools, like my first headship in the Broadland village of Tunstead, the log book will have been kept since the first pupils crossed the threshold – in that case more than a hundred years ago.
It is a fascinating historical record; reading through the pages from decades ago the school comes back to life, you find yourself becoming involved in the stories of individual members of staff and, most strikingly, familiar family names from the community echo down the years.
Throughout my time as a headteacher, I have lovingly maintained this tradition. It is my secret pleasure at the end of each day – the plush, creamy paper and a good quality fountain pen brought together with my very bestest handwriting. I love writing (as can easily be detected by the alert reader) and these few moments each day are a joy.
I think what I like about it most is the sense of perspective it brings. The school may have been there for decades, or even a century, and in that time countless children will have passed through, many, many staff, and many headteachers too. But as you look back through the pages, you find that the concerns of the past are just the same as ours today, and what seems an intractable problem now will have been encountered before - and resolved or forgotten. At the end of a typical school day, which can often be hectic, difficult, breathless and tiring, that is both a sobering and comforting thought.