For the first time in living memory, well, seven years, the Year Six maypole dancers tangled up the ribbons. They had skipped round the pole weaving an intricate pattern of colours – all they had to do was to reverse the moves. But one of them, maybe more, dived when they should have ducked and the threads became entwined. There was no recrimination, just some furrowed brows, gasps and giggles, while they decided the best way to undo the muddle. Up, down, backwards, forwards, the children worked together to solve a problem. Strings disentangled, they continued their unravelling until each ribbon was separate again. The audience roared their approval – louder and more raucously than if the dance had been perfect.
This year was a break with tradition. The Dancing moved from the village square, increasingly clogged with cars, to the playground. But everything else remained the same. Every class in the primary school took a turn to impress the audience of villagers, parents, grandparents, carers, friends and relatives. This year the theme was “Dancing through the Decades”. The playgroup poppets took this literally – they re-enacted the story of Sleeping Beauty. “The Princess lived for a hundred years, a hundred years…” played while the little princes and princesses cast their spells and one boy, overwhelmed, knuckled his eyes to stem the flow of tears. One class jived to “Rock Around the Clock”, another flashdanced to “What a Feeling”, Year One marched to “I am the Music Man”, but the climax was Year Six and the maypole.
It’s an annual ritual, the May Dancing. Some parents can remember when they, as Upper Juniors, danced round the maypole in the village square – a rite of passage before moving on to secondary school. It’s the same maypole, the same ribbons, but each year, a different group of eleven year olds.
What will these school leavers remember of their primary school? Not the Sats, or the time Ofsted came calling. No, they’ll remember the Christmas concerts where the infants always stage a nativity tableaux, the sports days and competitions, the school dinners (another rite of passage – Year Six pupils are given responsibility for a table), singing to the old people in the village hall, the “evacuee day” when they rode in a steam train with cardboard suitcases containing sandwiches of jam or spam (no crisps). And the May Dancing.
What will the future hold as they dance on to secondary school? Will they be valued for themselves or for their potential contribution to school league tables? Will they be judged for what they are or what tests say they can do? Will they develop a love of education which will stay with them forever or come to regard it as something to be swallowed and regurgitated on demand?
I hope not – I hope that these children will retain the enthusiasm they showed at the May Dancing when with aplomb and teamwork they averted disaster – and were rewarded with cheers.