By Tom Goodenough, Head of School at Didcot Girls School

Such is the pace of working in schools that the summer holiday is often the only chance teachers get to slow down and reflect on the year just gone, life in their school, the wider educational landscape and, indeed, their own place in that landscape.

Of course, should those reflections be informed by the prevailing attitudes to education we often see and hear then one would all too often feel quite negative or, at least, somewhat disheartened by life in schools. Indeed, if we were to believe everything we are told, we would be facing an impossible task using a shoestring budget and too few teachers to educate generations of entitled ‘snowflakes’ whose exams were too hard/easy/useless/marked inaccurately and who were going to go into the world of work completely unprepared anyway, despite our best efforts.

Fortunately, those of us privileged enough to work in schools every day have a bit of insider knowledge and I can confirm the reality is that, whilst budgetary issues facing schools are all too real, we are in the midst of a teacher recruitment crisis and the assessment regime is not altogether perfect, there are many more reasons to be cheerful about education than many would have us believe.

I am writing this the day after celebrating Didcot Girls’ School students’ best ever GCSE results and a week after Didcot Sixth Form students enjoyed a great set of A-Level results. If you ever needed reassurance of the joy and value of our education system then I can highly recommend a results day. Hundreds of smiling faces, students jumping for joy, parents screaming down the phone in excitement and teachers sharing every minute of it with the students they have come to care so deeply about; what more could anyone ask for by way of job satisfaction and reassurance that we have got something right? Whether it be the 27 students who achieved clean sweeps of the very top grades and are destined for higher education, the students who secured the grades to take up an apprenticeship, those about to start their career path in their dream job or those who are keeping their options open at this stage, there are bright and exciting futures opening up for these young people and it is our schools that make that a very joyful reality indeed.

Results days signal something else in schools too and that is the approach of a new year. One of the great benefits of the academic year is the annual ‘fresh start’ and an opportunity to do more, do better and do things differently. This makes for a wonderfully energetic and optimistic time every September and this year will be no exception for us at Didcot Girls’ School. We are about to welcome our largest ever cohort into Year 7 and, having met them several times over the summer term, we are very excited. The energy, enthusiasm and character of a cohort of 11-year-olds may not be for everyone but it is a source of great joy for those of us who choose to work in schools. Getting to know a new group of students who we will see grow and flourish over at least five years is, without doubt, one of the best things about being in education.

Happily, it is also not just what we do for students that should make us optimistic about education because it is a two-way street and we – teachers, schools, parents and society in general – get so much back from students too. I do not recognise the image of young people we are often presented and I do not see the entitled, lazy, self-absorbed creatures that we are supposedly teaching. What I see are the 50 or so 16-year-olds who have spent much of the summer after their GCSEs completing their National Citizen Service, the Year 8 student who is planning an Easter trip to Africa to build facilities for impoverished communities and the thousands of pounds our students raised last year for our nominated charities. Of course, across a large school like Didcot Girls’ School and within the even larger Ridgeway Education Trust, these are just a tiny fraction of the activities and stories we see in schools every day from an amazing generation of socially-conscious, engaged and kind young people that we have the great privilege of working with.

What better reason to be cheerful about education and schools?