The 2012 TES Schools Awards: Oscars for Mr Chips

'I think I better MARK NOW!'

At the 2012 TES School Awards yesterday, because Duck Confit with five-spice chutney doesn't eat itself, you know. The oddness of the hour was circumscribed succintly by the host, Rob Brydon when he said, 'It's always been my ambition to host a mid-afternoon award ceremony that celebrated educational achievement.'

Our romantic ideals are rooted of course in Oscars, Baftas, Tonys; garrulous, rather grimy back-scratching affairs where the neurotic and the desperate congratulate each other on their capacity to be unhappy in public. But at least they're dressed with the doomed and the beautiful. If you've ever seen (and I have) a Whitbread middle-manager awards ceremony, then reader, you possess the exact GPS coordinates of Hades. Christ have mercy.

The showbiz ceremonies shamelessly mug success, measured either by the slavish number-clicking of bums hitting cantilevered seats, or by the oligarchic decree of a self-elected inner cabal of critics and industry aristocrats. How Green Was My Valley scoffed Best Picture at the 1942 Oscars, which was hard cheese for the obviously rubbish Citizen Kane.

How does this translate into the educational sector? It's a tricky knot to unpick, like a Rubik's Cube made of bastards. It was, I must say, a lovely affair, hitting many of the right notes: Park Lane venue- check; cavernous ballroom lunch- check; red-tailed MC leading audience in charity japes- check (why IS it middle class people can't have an event without a fund raising fig-leaf? Ah yes, it's a tithe that balms the conscience, like a pro-active Our Father before a night in Sodom).

Rob Brydon, celebrity seasoning? Check. He brought something important to the affair: a soupçon of perspective. 'I told the organisers I'd only do this if there was an award for Outstanding Literacy or Numeracy initiative,' he said, neatly lampooning the  nature of award taxonomies.

Batman and Rotten
The charity of the day was the undoubtedly virtuous Kids Company, and the founder, Camilla Batmanghelidjh gave a mercifully short speech on how misunderstood children are, and how we need to see bad behaviour, not as a result of flawed character, but as a sign of deprivation. It might seem churlish to poo-poo her sentiments, but her position as angel of charity mustn't blind us to the fact that what she knows about child motivation and responsibility could be written on the back of a Park Lane napkin. You'll remember Ms B; she was the one who thought that the London riots weren't the fault of the rioters, but the fault of society, or the Illuminiati, or something. (click the link for madness). She was lucky she got off stage quickly: much more of that, and the room, full of teachers would have been lighting torches.

Her work with disadvantaged children is superlative; her sentimental hand-wringing mantra of Will no one think of the children? ironically strips them of dignity; reduces them to helpless harbingers of their upbringing, and shatters the concept of moral responsibility upon which, er, our entire moral framework depends. Once you start succumbing to determinism, however well meant, you helter-skelter into nihilistic irresponsibility.

Until proven otherwise, I teach all my children, from hard homes or happy, that they are responsible for their actions; that what they do is important, and therefore has meaning; that they are masters of their own actions, even if nothing else. By so doing, I treat them like human beings, and not as irresponsible engines of destiny. Let kids believe that 'they can't help it' and see how much progress they make with their characters. As teachers, we don;t have time for such middle-class, pampered wooly-mindedness. The kids have even less time for it.

And the winners? A collection of teams and schools and individuals who are all, in their own way, fighting the good fight behind closed doors, working hard and staying late to make sure that kids leave their care in better shape than they arrived. Everyone there was  a credit to the profession.

The people presenting the awards were the usual collection of industry grandees, sponsors, and others; I get a special, 50-shades-thrill in my saddle when I see Head Teachers (or Head Learners, or Principal Facilitators, or something Satanic) break out in hives as they realise they actually have to deliver something on stage other than a bollocking about Sports Day, or a pious chunder through Deuteronomy 23:1 (look it up, I beg you). Unanimously, they spoke about how proud they were of their teams, and of the children who had propelled them there, and it was hard not to feel quite a lot of pride.

'You like really LIKE me...'
Was Renee Zellweger really the best supporting actress in 2003 in the whole world? No. There are Koi Carp in the London Aquarium that could have provided a better foil to Nicole Kidman in Cold Mountain. But the existence of an Academy gives the industry something to get excited about. Some wag on Twitter said the other day that, if it weren't for the Olympics and such, we'd think that athletes were all nutters. Maybe that's the point of an awards ceremony for schools: by the act of celebration we show that we consider their efforts are worth celebrating. Flawed and odd, it might be, but that's something very rare indeed.


  1. I had to look up the Deuteronomy quote very apt!

  2. Tom, I think I might love you a little bit. The 'Batman and Rotten' caption alone was worthy of significant praise, but the picking apart of said Batman was most necessary. She seems to be wheeled out every time the media need someone who 'understands the youth'; painful, and repeatedly so, not least for the sheer journalistic laziness. I have tremendous respect for what she has achieved but she perhaps forgets that not ALL children who do stupid / violent / irresponsible etc etc things have endured a life of deprivation and abuse: some of them are just gits.


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