MA Course in History- probably my biggest challenge so far.

Les Fry

My career in mainstream education followed a stereotypical model for male primary school teachers of my generation. Five classroom years, learning the ropes; four years as “Scale 2 Boys’ Games”- always a good place to encounter drinking peers; four years as a Deputy Head, strutting authority and managing on those days that the Head was away and then a series of three Headships of my own over fourteen years.

My career in mainstream education followed a stereotypical model for male primary school teachers of my generation

I enjoyed my school based career but was pleased to progress to spearheading some genuine “Every Child Matters” initiatives in leading Extended Schools in groups of schools across two Local Education Authorities. That collection of roles got me cheerfully to the age of 60; still physically fit and with my own children essentially off my payroll, so I have the privilege of three different “If not now” moments, three opportunities to explore and express myself in ways coherent with what has gone before, but more independent, maybe more selfish and all, so far, personally satisfying!

Aged 60, I did a year’s VSO placement on the Indian Ocean island of Pemba, part of Tanzania.

My role was to support six School Managers to become School Leaders. Happily Tanzania uses English as the language of education, but I needed to master sufficient kiswahili to shop and manage my daily routines; I stood out as the only white man on the island and was universally greeted as “mzungu” as I cycled through tropical forests and along mud tracks to the six schools.

VSO placement on the Indian Ocean island of Pemba, part of Tanzania

I no longer recall the privations or anxieties but my blog consistently witnesses to electricity supply issues (never more than 16 hours per day), water shortages (unpredictable supply) and urgent demands for cheese (no dairy, no refrigeration). What I do recall are the vivid smiles of welcome, the energy and creativity that schools put into resourcing practical lessons to please me, the vast range of new fruits and vegetables that I tested (my year’s strong health attributable to my daily diet consisting of food that was still growing or swimming twelve hours earlier) and the local generosity (Eid 2011 will probably always remain the most joyful community day of my life.) The people of Pemba taught me more than I ever achieved for them.    

The restless “If not now” spirit re-emerged in 2018

I hadn’t articulated my next “If not now” enquiry once I returned to my wife and family, but an ideal opportunity appeared before me. I experienced a Christian Conversion at the age of 17 and have always sought to witness for Jesus informally in the living of my life. I was now given a formal opportunity as a charity employed me as  Chaplain to 23 South Gloucestershire Schools, combing my education experience, long life skills and faith commitment for five years. The “Every Child Matters” philosophy was re awoken, volunteers came from many churches to support vulnerable young people and my direct chaplaincy took me into the personal lives of so many superb teachers and managers who trusted me with their life challenges. Another wonderful opportunity, undoubtedly God given.

But the restless “If not now” spirit re-emerged in 2018, and I enrolled as a student again at the University of Bristol, battling memory lapses and technology and learning with fantastic aspirational young people, one third of my age, on an MA Course in History- probably my biggest challenge so far.