Skip to content ↓

Open To Change

Earlier this term, Dan and Amelia, our school captains, joined me to host dinner for some of our alumni, the Old Johnian’s.  All our pupils become OJs and, to a greater or lesser degree, being part of this community will always be a part of their identity. 

Two of our guests on that Friday evening were Katy and Finn, who were the school captains in my first year as Head of St John’s.  We were also joined by the vice chair of the governing council, an OJ who met his wife (a fellow OJ) while at school, and the chair of the OJ committee with his wife. It was a fun evening, the purpose of which was to consider how to engage with a younger generation of OJs to make more of the sense of connection today and in the future. 

Alongside the conversations about moving the Old Johnian community forward, there were inevitably fond reflections.  Mark Cooper, chair of the OJ committee, is a former Churchill boy and his memories of Churchill are of it as a boarding house on the Quad where Gloucester now has its home. Those boys currently in Churchill will always associate Churchill with its current location and as a day house but, regardless of these differences, are still likely to feel some connection to another Churchill boy, even if more than three decades separate their experiences.

This is just one example of the changes – big and small – that St John’s has seen over its history. Other changes, much more recent, were commented upon by Henry, an OJ who left in 2020. When he came back on the day of the CCF inspection he commented that it was great to see the School having a more modern approach to haircuts for boys; he remembered it as all short back and sides or you were taken down to the barber in town to have a compulsory cut – and that was only a few years ago. Similarly, it was felt to be quite bold at the end of my first year here when the uniform rules changed to allow boys the same rules as girls regarding ear studs, where before they had not been allowed to wear them at all. While Henry thought this was a good thing, and many of our pupils would be in uproar if this flexibility wasn’t in place, not only is it a recent change but there are undoubtedly OJs in former generations who would be far less impressed by what we view as a most innocent of changes.  

Despite all these changes, as the conversation developed around the table, what was also clear is that there was a shared sense of what it means to be an OJ. Friendship and loyalty were key, a determination to be fully engaged in all aspects of life after school were defining characteristics, and the moral purpose of St John’s – ‘to seek those things which are above’ – remained important to everyone around the table, no matter how different their individual memories and experiences of St John’s were.  

In any particular moment in time, it is easy to feel that either things have always been this way, or that the way things are now is the right and proper way for things to be.  However, what we see time and again is that organisations, societies, nations evolve and change, sometimes far faster than we give them credit for. But the very best are bound by a defining set of values which provide constancy and are recognisable through the changes which happen.

The weekend after that enjoyable Friday evening, an article in the newspaper caused me to continue my reflections on change and I found myself feeling a new openness to an idea I’d previously been sceptical about. The five-day working week and two-day weekend has been the norm in Britain for decades. But some UK companies are now either trialling, or considering, a 100:80:100 working week. This concept sees employees receive 100% pay for a four-day working week with 100% productivity. It’s a trend which has been driven partly by the disruption caused by the pandemic to standard working practices and partly by research coming from other parts of the world.  
 
After Microsoft tested a four-day week in Japan in 2019, productivity rose by 40%. When the supermarket chain Iceland conducted a trial of 2,500 workers on a reduced four-day week between 2015 and 2019, the results were described as an ‘overwhelming success’. Productivity remained the same or improved in the majority of workplaces and workers felt less stressed.  When France’s legally mandated 35 hour working week was introduced in 1998, many in Britain sneered at the perceived inefficiency. But France’s productivity is estimated to be 18% higher than the UK’s, according to the Office for National Statistics – suggesting that simply working more hours might not automatically mean more output. 

So, what would happen if the UK switched to a four-day working week?  Would schools move to a four-day week as well, with shorter school holidays to allow the curriculum to be covered?  Might this result in lower stress levels all round, increased productivity and higher quality family time?  Well maybe it would, and I love the idea, but I find it instinctively difficult to imagine.  I’ve grown up with the familiar pattern of the 5:2 working week and weekend and we all tend to resist change to the things we know well.

Before any of our pupils get too excited, I have to put it on the record that I don’t see a change to the school working week happening any time soon so I don’t think our current pupils will be enjoying a three-day weekend during their school lives.  But they might well find it becomes the norm during their working lifetime, and maybe their children or grandchildren will experience a four-day school week.  A new normal might be on its way down the tracks. 

For me, this thought has certainly opened my eyes to the need to be open to change. Even the routines which seem most established can evolve. Maybe the 4:3 week is a blue print for tomorrow.

Rowena Cole is The Head of St John's School.  Follow her @rowenacole01 and stay in touch with all the news at St John's by following us @StJohnsSurrey