Passmores is an 11-16 school, as some of you know, and it’s hugely important to us that the prestissimo start of examinations doesn’t lead us to forget about celebrating all the years we have spent with our young people who are facing them.
The ‘beginning of the end’ for our year 11 comes with the Yearbook Committee. This really is a labour of love for those concerned – although it has been made easier as the technology available in school has improved. The pages that are always the most challenging to get right without causing offence are the ones covering the ‘most likely to…’ topic. Now, I don’t know whether this is an ‘Essex’ thing, but the number of ‘most likely to be a WAG’ entries always leaves me feeling a little bit sad. I can’t help but despair for the hours and hours of aspiration raising careers advice and extra work to raise grades! I will admit that I’ve enjoyed the increasing number of ‘most likely to be a doctor, lawyer etc.’ despite truly believing all occupations are worthy of our admiration (and being the son of a plumber myself, of course).
We also choose to have a ‘Year 11 Celebration Day’. Our young people come to school in their finery for the day – the girls looking five years older than the boys and about four inches taller than the day before. I remember the bad old days of dodging flour and eggs at the gate as we said goodbye. This doesn’t happen any more – partly because we are a different school from when I started fourteen years ago and partly (possibly mainly) because the young people don’t want to ruin their best going out gear. We try to have normal lessons the first two periods (we rarely succeed), and then a celebration assembly; for those with long memories you saw a snippet of it during the last episode of Educating Essex – and yes, I cried in that bit too.
The other part of this day that I really love seeing, that has come about over recent years, is the amount of gifts exchanged between students to say ‘thanks’ for being their learning partner/peer mentor, because of our vertical tutoring approach.
The post exam fiesta for our Year 11 is of course prom; but only if they have earned the right to go by completing their ‘Passport to Prom’, which is a whole separate article. I am a little torn on the whole ‘prom’ tradition if I’m completely truthful. The money and the stress for parents/carers can seem to be too much – you are shouting bah humbug now, aren’t you?
The prom did give me one of my most heart warming moments as head, however. We hold our event at a nearby hotel, but we ask all students to meet us at school for one last year group photo. The array of vehicles is staggering, from our school minibus through to Hummers and converted fire engines. I was standing next to one female year 11 student (let’s call her Wilma), who had decided early in the year not to come for some very valid reasons. She looked sad and I asked her if she wished she’d chosen to come after all, to which I got a tearful nod. I gave her a hug, but had to get on with the pain of organising the limo parking mayhem.
About 20 minutes later I rounded up my minibus posse to find Wilma among them, in a prom dress that fitted perfectly, hair and make up done. I didn’t want to pry so I smiled and we got on with what is always a fun evening.
The next day at school I asked around about what had happened, only to be pointed towards our school receptionist, Mrs Walker. She informed me that she had accumulated dresses, shoes, make up etc over the years just in case there was the catastrophic game of ‘dress snap’, and for situations like Wilma’s; I’d had no idea. I, of course, got more than a little emotional at this amazingly thoughtful gesture and we now have our own hire shop for dresses, suits etc that our young people can discreetly visit and borrow an outfit from (anyone who wants to donate items, by the way, feel free to get in touch).
We do try hard to mark this moment in time in a positive way, but prom is something that we see as a privilege not a right – and there is always a handful of young people who don’t remain a respectful and courteous part of our community right up to the end, missing out on the event as a consequence.
I find it an incredibly difficult decision not to allow a student to prom. However, having spoken to numerous young people who didn’t make it over the years that follow they have, without exception, apologised and called their younger selves a variety of less than pleasant names.
So that’s how we celebrate at Passmores. I don’t know what anyone else does; but I wish all of you and your students a really successful end to the year and I hope you enjoy whatever way you choose to mark the end of this journey with your young people.
<H3>About the author</h3>
Vic Goddard is head teacher at passmores academy – as seen on channel 4’s ‘educating essex’, and is the author of ‘the best job in the world’