Real Ideas Programme Lead and former headteacher Gary Futcher on the hope inherent in a new school year

It’s the first full week of September and the start of a new school year is swinging into action. Social media platforms are full of smart new (slightly on the large size to allow room for growth) uniforms, beaming faces and, ultimately, a really positive dose of hope.

And it’s the sense of hope at this time of year that I always remember best from my 20+ years of teaching: new beginnings, fresh leaves turned, always the capacity for another start no matter how the previous year ended. I, just like the students, would have got my new shoes and stationery in order and my schemes of work would have been planned and first week’s lessons ready. I would have enjoyed the holiday and time with family but we would always be ready about now for a bit of getting back to ‘normality’. And so, despite the obligatory flurry of new year butterflies, I’d be happy to be back and excited to see my classroom filled once more with bustle and hum.

I was also privileged in a number of schools to look after transition, preparing for that significant change between primary and secondary for all children in their infinite variety: the confident, the timid, the cheerful, the fearful; the ones arriving with parent attached; the ones bowling in with a ready group of friends or an older sibling, the ones arriving tentatively on their own as the sole representative of their primary school that year. And far from the apocryphal advice for teachers to ‘never smile before Christmas’, I’d be equally welcoming to all because that welcome was a kindling for the hope in each one.

And there’s no reason why this September should be any different. Yes, there’s still plenty to vex. Covid still loiters, vaccination decisions are hotly debated, schools still await the government’s much trumpeted CO2 monitors, all is far from certain regarding examinations and for many families concerns over the end to furlough and the Universal Credit uplift will be particularly pressing.

But, still, today at least, the sun is shining, and those Facebook and Twitter pictures tell their very own story about the positivity that exists and the hope that is inherent in getting back to school. Because education is, at heart, a hopeful pursuit, opening doors to a whole range of possible futures.

So here’s the very best of wishes to all staff and parents and most of all to every child and young person for a hope filled school year.

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