JONNY MITCHELL: A reminder of the frailty of life

HEAD LINES Jonny Mitchell.
HEAD LINES Jonny Mitchell.

Thornhill Community Academy’s straight-talking headteacher Jonny Mitchell showed the world what life in the classroom is really like in the award-winning TV documentary series Educating Yorkshire.

Now he writes exclusively for us.

I heard a news report this morning of the potential fate of Michelangelo’s world-renowned statue of David. It appears that the great master himself was not all he was cracked up to be, and he sculpted his icon with extremely weak ankles, such that, according to experts, it is only a matter of time before they give way under the weight of his body. Experts are scrambling their efforts to reinforce the base of the statue to prevent this masterpiece from shattering into a thousand pieces. You might be wondering how this fits in with what I want to write about today. Well, bear with me please.

I would normally steer well clear of an issue as tragic and horrifying as the murder of Ann Maguire, the much-loved teacher who lost her life under such horrendous circumstances at Corpus Christi recently.

But I think it would be a slight on her memory and the commitment she had to the students, for over 40 years, not to make some form of reference to her in my column.

Alongside the outpouring of grief, shock and horror which has followed this tragedy, however, there have been other repercussions, the likes of which have not really been witnessed since the mindless, fatal attack on Headteacher Philip Lawrence some 20 years ago.

Then, as now, there were immediate calls for the authorities to look very carefully at school security. It was rare to open a newspaper without finding opinion pieces and editorial lamenting the lax attitude of school leaders and local authorities towards security of staff and pupils, insinuating some form of huge failing. But the facts and the circumstances in both instances, even taken at basic level, indicate the same thing - these were both isolated incidents, and could have happened anywhere and at any time, to anyone.

True, staff and students who come to school should be safe in the knowledge that they are in a safe haven; indeed, many schools have heightened security, chiefly as a response to changes in society generally, to make sure the school grounds are comforting and secure places to be. This, variously, includes the appointment of safer schools police officers, the installation of metal detectors and airport-style weapons gates. But, essentially, irrespective of the levels of security introduced in any school, and for whatever reason, neither of these tragic incidents would have been prevented. It is, unfortunately, the human condition which dictates this type of heinous behaviour; it is just unfortunate in the extreme that hard-working, caring and passionate people sometimes get caught in the crossfire.

It’s also cruelly ironic that the day I write this, the parole board have just recommended the release of Phillip Lawrence’s killer. Seems like a piece of classically good timing in the circumstances.

Closer to home, it has also been a time of great distress in the Thornhill community, with the sudden passing of one of our dearly-loved students. School resumed on the Monday after the Easter holidays without Ahmed Wadee, one of our popular, happy Year 9 boys. Ahmed was known, almost universally, by his absolutely huge smile, and his penchant for food. I cannot recall a single occasion when I would have met him in a corridor when he wasn’t beaming widely, laughing at something or other or looking as though he was on the brink of playing a joke. Knowing that he won’t be part of our school any longer has been a difficult realisation to make for all of us, and I only hope that his family and close friends find that time mellows their grief and sadness, and they can begin to focus on all the happy times they spent together.

A big part of our community has gone, and I wanted to use the opportunity of my column to wish his family and friends our heartfelt condolences and best wishes at this difficult time.

And what has this to do with Michelangelo’s David? I am a great believer in symbolism, and the analogy of David could serve as a reminder of the absolute frailty of the human condition; the best laid plans of mice and men go oft awry; just as David could fall, without warning, and be lost to us forever, so the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune can rain down on anyone, at any time. Sophisticated as we might think we are, there are simply things over which we have absolutely no control. Ahmed Wadee and Ann Maguire exemplify this in spades.