Pomp and pageantry / Privation and problematic history
Over the final 4 days of the half term holiday, the UK and many other Commonwealth countries around the world celebrated the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee. The School celebrated with a picnic and memorial tree and as a resident, I also attended the Fulneck Settlement street party on Saturday. The television coverage of the events in London was appropriately jubilant and the crowds outside Buckingham Palace and along the Mall throughout the long weekend certainly demonstrated that many wanted to be part of the historic occasion. Beyond that, however, and mainly in the print media or online, there were some dissenting voices. As an Economics and Politics teacher I am probably more interested than many, but as an educator and school leader I also feel strongly that we have a duty to consider both sides of an argument; indeed part of our job as teachers is to develop that skill in young people, one which is ultimately tested in GCSE and A Level examinations where questions often ask students to “evaluate whether….” “discuss …..” “analyse the ways …..” “to what extent to do you agree with ……” In the words of F Scott Fitzgerald The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.
Alongside the more traditional arguments about monarchy vs republicanism, the cost to the public purse of the events in light of the rising cost of living which is putting such a burden on many families and businesses and the opportunity cost of lost productivity on the additional bank holiday, I was interested to note that other arguments, just as longstanding but previously less high profile, were being raised more publicly this year. This particularly included critical evaluation of the role of the monarchy in the history of the British Empire and colonialism. From the crown jewels to state visits, there was often a consideration, albeit passing in some cases, of the suppression and poor treatment of indigenous peoples and Commonwealth immigrants to the UK. There was more willingness to reflect on the dark side of our history and the importance of promoting diversity, equality and inclusion in society today.
During Trooping the Colour and the subsequent fly past and parades, it was frequently noted that ‘no-one does pomp and pageantry like us’ and certainly watching the regimented marching, gleaming horses and brilliant playing and choreography of bands there was a great sense of history, pride and respect which is uniquely British. However, I think the greater part of the celebrations, and as noted by the Queen, was not in the formality or crowds of London but in the streets, gardens and homes around the UK. For many the long weekend provided an opportunity to spend time with family and friends in a way we have not been able to do so for over 2 years and to take part in activities which raised awareness or funds to support their community. The Union flag bunting, singing of the National Anthem, or toasts to Her Majesty were incidental to the wider benefits of the occasion. That is not to say that ‘pomp and circumstance’ do not have a role to play: all institutions, and schools particularly, are built and thrive on routine, hierarchy, tradition and a degree of ‘pageantry’. Whether that is every day protocols such as standing for a teacher entering a room, giving certificates and cups during celebration assemblies, singing the School hymn or the carefully planned rituals of Speech Day, we do enjoy and even seek out the familiarity of authority and tradition.
At Fulneck we seek to get the very best of all these view points and understand the importance of each in their own way. Community is crucial to our family friendly school, we care about ourselves and others and cultivate an ethos of respectful informality. We are tolerant of our differences and celebrate the qualities and traits that make us individuals. We are also proud of our long history and understand the importance of recognising our past while looking to the future. We appreciate that tradition is vital in understanding who we are and our place in the world and that celebrating this helps connect us to Fulneck and the wider community. However, we are not afraid to tackle the bigger issues facing young people and society – we encourage debate and seek alternative view points. Education is about learning and mistakes will be made; we learn from each other. We constantly ask the hard questions and implement change where need to improve ourselves and our School to ensure that all are heard and can thrive. This is especially important when things are difficult. Economically, socially and mentally the last few years have been tough on families and young people – and that is likely to continue for some time yet. I am proud of the fact that Fulneck School provides a place where the very best of tradition, pomp and pageantry are valued but never overshadow our commitment to an inclusive, challenging and forward-thinking education.