Change to two tier education created a Tempest, says Geoff Barton, so it was the perfect choice for Hardwick Middle’s last show

Geoff Barton, headteacher at King Edward VI Upper School in Bury.

Geoff Barton, headteacher at King Edward VI Upper School in Bury. - Credit: Archant

King Edward’s head teacher says it was exactly right that Hardwick Middle School’s last production was Shakespeare’s last play

Hardwick Middle School pupils staged the Tempest to say farewell to their school

Hardwick Middle School pupils staged the Tempest to say farewell to their school - Credit: Archant

Geoff Barton says the Tempest was the perfect farewell to the middle school era

In eight days’ time, an era will end in Suffolk. All but two of its remaining middle schools will close their doors for a final time, the keys formally handed back to officials. Nine years on from the County Council’s momentous decision to switch to a two-tier system of schooling, the protracted and sometimes turbulent transition will be complete. The tempest will be over.

So it was that last Friday afternoon I stood in Hardwick Middle School and watched as Shakespeare’s final play played out through the assembly hall, the dining room, corridors and library.

There are a couple of stories to tell here.

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Firstly, two years ago the governors of Hardwick asked their counterparts at King Edward’s whether our school’s leadership team might oversee their middle school during its final phase. Attempts to recruit a new headteacher had been unsuccessful.

So because of a long-established partnership between our two schools, we said a cautious yes and assistant head Rachel Forward stepped up to the role of Hardwick headteacher.

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Leading a school to closure might seem a gloomy mission. But the Hardwick team has been determined that its last two years should not be a narrative of sadness but one of educational momentum.

Even when buffeted by a punitive Ofsted inspection, just a few weeks into the new arrangements, the governors and staff focused entirely on what mattered – the quality of education. There was no Ofsted hoop-jumping, no gimmicks rushed in to appease inspectors, no uttering of any sentence that started: ‘Ofsted says …’.

Instead this was a school which stood by its principles, focused on continuing to improve teaching, and which was repaid by the loyal support of parents and the joyful optimism of its children.

The school closes next week after forty years, with the memories of thousands of pupils past and present contributing to its proud heritage. Over these final weeks, special events, exhibitions and residentials have supplemented the relentless focus on teaching, as the school moves towards closure.

That’s where our second story comes in.

In 1612 Shakespeare was coming to the end of his writing career. Once the most popular dramatist of his age, Shakespeare appeared to be losing the popular touch.

The once bright young thing of London’s theatre was looking like yesterday’s man.

Shakespeare knew it was time to step down. His final play, ‘The Tempest’, did something he appears not to have undertaken in 36 other works: it used a plot he himself invented rather than borrowing it from history or other stories.

The tale of the ageing, irascible Prospero, once a man of public influence but now marooned on an island with his daughter and his beloved books, is an uncomfortable tale of power and love.

It begins with a storm. It ends with a heartfelt goodbye to an island home. It is Shakespeare’s goodbye too to the theatre.

And it was this play that pupils of Hardwick Middle School performed last week to their friends and teachers, guided by the expert team of the Schools Shakespeare Festival.

We watched as pupils recreated the storm, the trauma of uncertainty, and then said goodbye to their library, stepping over small packages of books tied with string. The doors opened, and pupils walked into the playground’s daylight, took small slips of paper, and wrote down a dream for the brave new world of their futures.

There couldn’t have been a more heartbreaking yet joyful way to say goodbye to the school. In doing so, pupils were paying unspoken tribute to a wonderful team of staff and governors.

Truly, our revels now are ended. Thank you to everyone who has so loyally played their part in Hardwick Middle School’s proud story and Suffolk’s middle school era.

Sixth Form joke:

A three-legged dog walks into a saloon in the Old West. He slides up to the bar and announces: ‘I’m looking for the man who shot my paw

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