It is probably far too late in the month to wish readers a ‘Happy New Year’, but somehow for this first blog of 2021 it would seem impolite not to, especially in the context that the closing words of my previous piece was to wish you all a good Christmas. 

With so many developments and challenges in our sector, our country, and our world right now, I was surprised how difficult I found it to think of a theme this month.  That, plus the reality that other priorities inevitably pushed the writing of a blog to the bottom of the in-tray, has resulted in this edition just about squeezing in through the closing door that is the month of January. 

I decided to explore a phrase that was used by an acquaintance from the charities sector in an online seminar I attended recently.  As we discussed our roles and our work, he quipped “I have to remind myself sometimes that we’re cathedral builders, we take on the work of others and don’t ever really see our work come to a conclusion.”  I was struck by how much this resonated with me in terms of the role we play in our schools. 

Working for a Trust that sees its youngest children join our schools at the age of two, and where our eldest young people leave us at eighteen, there is an inclination to see this journey as stretching from its embarkation to its destination.  In some ways it is:  for the entirety of a child’s compulsory school education, John Taylor MAT and its schools may be the sole provider.  It is a privilege and a joy to see our children grow, develop, learn and enjoy their school days exclusively with us. 

Yet we also know that a child’s development begins long before school, and our development as adults extends far beyond our School Prom or Sixth Form Ball.  In that sense, we too are the cathedral builders – we take the achievements and hopes of those who were there before us, make a profound contribution and then pass the responsibility, and the opportunity, on to others.  If this sentiment conjures up an image of schools as construction sites, or that our children and young people are as passive as pieces of masonry, it should not.  The cathedral we build is not the child, but their experiences, skills and attitudes, and they literally co-construct this with us.  It is “done with”, not “done to”.  Nor is there a fixed blueprint or set of plans.  Anyone who has studied ecclesiastical architecture would note that changes in styles and building methods will be incorporated – sympathetically – into the structure as it develops.  So it is with the cathedrals we build.

Finally, we have become used to viewing our work, and having it evaluated, at regular and relatively short-term intervals:  phonics tests, SATs, progress tests, GCSEs, A Levels, Ofsted inspections, SIAMS inspections etc.  The cathedral builder can step back from the spirit level and the theodolite and look beyond this to the greater cause.  That may sound grandiose, but I make no apologies for that.  Our cause is a great one – certainly greater than buildings of stone, lead and stained glass.  We should all take the opportunity to look at our work in this way.  When writing this, I found a poem entitled “Cathedral Builders” by John Ormond.  The last verse is fitting here:

To leave the spire to others; stood in the crowd
Well back from the vestments at the consecration,
Envied the fat bishop his warm boots,
Cocked up a squint eye, and said, “I bloody did that”.

“Cathedral Builders” by John Ormond

To all the amazing cathedral builders out there: You all “bloody did that”!

Thanks for reading.