OPINION: Ripon concert was a gesture of gratitude to musical director - Former headteacher Dennis Richards

If you are discussing the role of a headteacher, I suggest that Publilius Syrus was probably right; “Anyone can hold the helm when the sea is calm.”

By The Newsroom
Thursday, 7th April 2022, 2:20 pm
St Aidan's High School in Harrogate.
St Aidan's High School in Harrogate.

I was reminded of my own stint in a leadership position when I attended a magnificent concert at Ripon Cathedral at the weekend. The concert was celebrating the 30th anniversary of the remarkable St Aidans Chamber Choir.

A huge contributor to Harrogate community life, it has also brought considerable distinction to the town in terms of its record in national competitions, most notably as winners of the prestigious BBC Songs of Praise Choir of the Year competition.

Several appearances in the Royal Albert Hall, and in Westminster Abbey, have been matched by countless Friday evening concerts, in the humblest of local churches raising funds for hassocks and cassocks, and for a veritable Heinz 57 variety of good causes, with extended raffles to test the patience of all the Saints.

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The concert also was a gesture of gratitude to Musical Director Mark Pallant, who has led the team running the choir, and other ensembles, over a remarkable 19 years. He has announced his intention to step down at the end of this academic year. Parents of students from this and previous generations had flocked to the cathedral knowing that something special was about to happen. I glowed as former students, some with greying locks and proud tales of children of their own, mentioned that my own particular legacy was there for all to see. “The girls are still wearing trousers”. Thanks.

All of which was a reminder, that if the worst that I had to face was a row about school uniform, Publilius was right. I think he would also have appreciated that this year is the centenary of the publication of TS Eliot’s The Waste Land. “April is the cruellest month”, one of its famous line. After an unusually sunny March, April opened with glacial temperatures and early morning snow.

Beleaguered heads, coping with teachers still contracting Covid on a pandemic scale, and reeling from the horror of a European war, could be forgiven for thinking that this would be the straw that broke the camel’s back. Thankfully they bravely kept the schools open. Just as well they did, as by morning break-time, the snow had gone. Had they decided to close, it would have been the thaw that broke the camel’s back instead.

“Music is back”, said Mark Pallant. It mostly certainly was. It exuded joy. Shame that there was no education bigwig from the DfE present to witness it. Had they been so, the recently published bore fest of a white paper would have focused more on Sport, Drama, Dance, Art and Outdoor Pursuits to Music. Often referred to as “extra-curricular”. They are not. The concerts, sports fixtures, dance and drama productions and exhibitions form the “extended curriculum.”

Flexibility is the key for schools, where there are now many traumatised children. And when hopefully Ukrainian children start to turn up in our schools, you just know, that our schools will rise to the challenge. Literacy fair enough. But playtime is what they deserve. And for heaven’s sake, drop the league tables after the summer exams.

Cricket is around the corner and locally there is a new over-fifties league. I’ve picked my team to follow. Helperbytheaged. Wonderful. And what about the 10,000 commemorative mugs for the forthcoming Jubilee? Manufactured in China and hilariously celebrating it as the Queen’s Diamond ‘Jubbly.’ Now highly sought-after souvenirs. Eliot’s April may be the cruellest month. Let’s hope and pray that May and the rest of the summer months are not.