Back and blogging a day earlier than expected after the government inspectors decided that (by a whisker and IMHO very harshly) that our school will need another four months before being released from special measures. I write in anger at the decision, with a need for catharsis and not for entertainment tonight. Indulge me, dear readers, if you will.
In 2001, the Labour government introduced a programme in which every young child in Britain would be supplied a piece of fruit at morning break. The aim was to promote healthy eating and was a welcome change to the Margaret Thatcher regime who had taken away a similar long-standing arrangement for school milk two decades before. It earned her a nickname still held dear by those of us on the political left.
The fruit scheme offered only the most basic of variety. One day it would be apples, the next day oranges, then bananas, carrots and tomatoes. Simple but at least a gesture and the children got one of their five-a-day.
After a few weeks, the children began to notice the pattern. They would eagerly search out which fruit was being delivered to the classroom and pass comment on whether tomorrow it might be strawberries, watermelon or even mango. Disappointment would reign as the carrots would be unveiled.
A seven year old (we’ll call him Louie) decided that decisive action was needed. During a letter writing project he elected to compose a message to Tony Blair, the Prime Minister of the day. In his best penmanship, Louie wrote:
Carrot Day came and went followed by Tomato Day, Apple Day, Orange Day and Banana Day. The same next week. And the week after. Autumn turned to winter and the oranges became hard to peel whilst wearing mittens. But the fruit arrived each morning and the children would clamber over each other to see if Louie’s pineapple wish had been granted.
I remember the day clearly early in 2002 when I noticed the box being delivered to the school looked different than usual. My heart leapt as I entertained for a brief moment that perhaps Louie’s wish had been granted. The box contained cucumbers. Disappointment yes but the break in the pattern suggested that perhaps, one day pineapple would be delivered.
A few weeks after we received a handwritten letter.
To receive a handwritten letter from the Prime Minister was highly unusual and a great honour. Louie proudly displayed his letter which helped off-set the disappointment of the third Cucumber Day that month. It was better than pineapple.
Ten years have passed. The left wing government of the day has been replaced by a right wing one. Louie is 17 years old by now and I hope he still treasures the letter. I expect it to show up on Antiques Road Show someday: a 50 year old Louie being asked, “Do you have it insured?” Louie looking over the top of his glasses, aching to ask; ‘How much is it worth?’
I am a decade older as well. I am now Head Teacher at a very different school with very different needs. I walked in on Tuesday morning and glanced over at the fruit delivery to the most wondrous sight. There, majestically poised on top of the fruit delivery box sat a tray of pineapple. Resisting the urge to hire a private investigator to track down Louie and have the tray delivered in person, I took a photo. It seems wishes do come true but sometimes we have to wait. And wait. And wait.
That same morning the government’s inspectors called to say they would be spending the next two days visiting my school and judging whether it should be removed from its failing category.
I was wholly optimistic that their judgements would match that of the local government. I began to dream of a great day of celebration. I dared to let myself imagine that the end of our long journey was nearing its end.
Dear readers, it was not to be. By the width of a whisper, I was unable to deliver that Great Day to our school community. I argued, fought, even lost my temper in an effort to convince the inspectors. They remained unmoved. And so they will return again in the Autumn, when mittens are once again peeling oranges on the playground. That will prove to be our Great Day.
I hold fast to that thought. The pineapple confirms it somehow. It is an omen. Louie waited 10 years and still never got to taste the sweetness. I will wait four months.
I will cut through the course, hard exterior of an autumnal pineapple and expose its ripe interior; the colour of sunshine. I will savour the sweetness, all the better for having waited for a taste. I will taste the sharpness which will remind me of the disappointment I feel this day.
Tonight, Louie, wherever you are, know that wishes come true.
Keep the Faith,