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Thursday, 6 September 2012

The day we opened a school

I can't quite believe I am typing this. We've done it - we've opened a school! Woooo-hoooooo!!!!

These two monkeys are the official school mascots - I hope they behave themselves! Boy, did I enjoy making them, and lavishing some attention over the detailing of the school uniform so it looks like the real thing.

Rascals: Dave and Anita
Forgive the excitement, but it has been quite a journey getting here. It isn't every day you open a school, is it? And so, straight after seeing my biggest girl into her new classroom, I walked the other two girls to see Daddy's new school. Gulp. My heart was thumping as we neared the building, and, although I knew we'd be too late to see the pupils going in (and the press, who had apparently been outside), I just had to wander past today. 

It has been an immense challenge. There have been more obstacles and opposition in our way than either of us would have liked, and times during the last couple of years or so that our dream of setting up a cracking new secondary school in our home town of Bedford seemed too hard to achieve.  

Infinity symbols on the school badge - reflecting the ethos of the school that education opens up infinite possibilities for a child
There is such a lot I could say about the gritty details of the getting to this point - maybe one day I'll write a book about it all. (Ha, ha, ha, ha.) But there is the next stage of the dream to accomplish first, that is, making a success of the school, and living up to the expectations of all the parents and children who have invested their faith in it by sending their children there. That challenge falls on the shoulders of the hubby and his team of staff and governors.  (Was I tempted to join in and teach at the school? Er, YES! But I have my own little gang who need me right now...)

I think now is a good time for me to take stock and realise how far we have come. 

I am stronger than I realised I was two years ago. A positive thing about the opposition we have overcome, is the development of skins to rival any rhinoceroses. As a pair, me and the hubby have had our metal tested, and come out stronger for it. I know that pursuing dreams isn't a glamorous or fuzzy Disney like endeavour, but that it takes guts and hard work.  I feel proud that we have got this far. And I feel grateful to our friends and family who have shown their support when it counted - you know who you are. 

I wish my friend Caroline was alive to witness the big day. She was a tower of strength to me during the tough times, and always delighted in the times when things were going well. It was during a dark period of uncertainty over whether or not Mark would be successful in being appointed as Principal, that Caroline was diagnosed with cancer. Boy did that put everything into perspective. Life is bitterly unfair at times - she fought so hard to overcome her illness so she could simply live long enough to be Mummy to her boys. Sometimes the best ones are taken, and there is no making sense of it. 

Incidentally, as an aside, I am pleased to have discovered the friendly world of crafty blogging a year or so ago. It provided me with the perfect antidote to the internet `trolls' we had been on the brunt end of. Another lesson learned - it is easy to criticise and say outrageous things from the sidelines, especially when under the cover of anonymity that the internet brings. You'd be surprised at how venomous some of the opinions were!

One reason we wanted to start up a school was to provide local parents with more choice when it comes to their children's education. The wealthy have always had choice - either through the ability to pay school fees or to move to a good catchment area - and I don't begrudge them that. But shouldn't every one have choice? And besides, a bit of competition usually encourages every one to try a bit harder and attract pupils to their school - it certainly did in the independent schools I worked at earlier on in my career.

I was lucky enough to grow up in one of the few parts of the country that kept the grammar school system. Living on a council estate, and coming from what politically correct types might label as an underprivileged background, going to grammar school changed my life for the better.

It is no accident that the colour of the uniform at Bedford Free School is the same as the school I went to. The Bedford Free School is not a grammar school - and we wouldn't want it to be. But a lot of the ethos that runs through it has been inspired by the best bits of my old school.

My school inspired me to take a "not if, but when" attitude to life - that I could achieve just about whatever I wanted to achieve if I was willing to work hard enough. My teachers took an uncompromising stance when it came to valuing hard work and perseverance over social background. Excuses weren't really tolerated, and I am forever grateful to my teachers for showing me they believed I could achieve and going the extra mile to help me do so. Ah, yes - going the extra mile. The motto adopted by staff and students at the new school. The hope is that it will not only apply to their own academic and personal endeavours, but also to doing something impressive in the world around them. Oh goodness - look how earnest I have got. Sorry folks. Gold stars all round if you are still reading this!

Anyhow, I hope these mascots enjoyed their first day - along with all the students at the school, too, of course.


  1. Congratulations on a big and worthy achievement! Good luck for the school year ahead x

  2. Wow! What an amazing & exciting day for you. And just a huge well done for your perseverance this far! I'd love to go and see the school at some point, having worked in education for the past 5 years its a big passion of mine, and if Mark's ever looking for a drama specialist, he knows where to come! :-) WELL DONE, proud of you guys! And LOVE LOVE LOVE the mascots! :-) xxxxx

  3. Hello! Thank you for the warm wishes. Still can't take it all in.
    I have just seen Mark on the BBC news at one (guess they were filming this morning) - if it hadn't sunk in, it is certainly beginning to now. SO excited.
    And Lucy, the plan is to double pupil numbers next year (started with 200 today) as the year groups move up, so recruitment for staff will recommence pretty soon. Keep your eyes open for the adverts! As for a look around at the school - I'll have a word once term has settled into its rhythm. X

  4. Yay!!!!! It's finally happened :-). Well done to all x

    1. Yes! Seems like years ago we were sitting in your front room talking about it. Oh. It was years ago!
      Thank you for being part of the dream. X

  5. Congratulations to you both! What a wonderful thing to want to do for children who might otherwise not get a choice about where they go to school. I really hope it goes from strength to strength - but I'm sure it will. Especially with those mascots on board - you can't go far wrong under the watchful eyes of those chaps! Hurrah for people who believe in children and their fantastic potential. xxxx

    1. Thank you Alice. Very happy to hear from Mark that the first week of lessons has gone down well and the children are all excited about school. Even better, they are going to learn to make their own sock monkey/creatures as part of their first design and technology project. You can imagine how delighted I am about that... may even volunteer to go in and help! X

  6. Well done! I am full of admiration for you both. xx

    1. Thanks, Anna. Looking forward to seeing you for flowery fun on Thursday... X