10 Year since “Man the lifeboats. The idiots are winning”; have we made progress?

Back in April 2018, Charlie Booker wrote this headline piece in The Guardian newspaper:

Charlie BrookerMan the lifeboats. The idiots are winning. Last week I watched, open-mouthed, a Newsnight piece on the spread of “Brain Gym” in British schools. I’d read about Brain Gym before – a few years back, in Ben Goldacre’s excellent Bad Science column for this newspaper – but seeing it in action really twisted my rage dial.

Brain Gym, y’see, is an “educational kinesiology” programme designed to improve kiddywink performance. It’s essentially a series of simple exercises lumbered with names that make you want to steer a barbed wire bus into its creator’s face. One manoeuvre, in which you massage the muscles round the jaw, is called the “energy yawn”. Another involves activating your “brain buttons” by forming a “C” shape with one hand and pressing it either side of the collarbone while simultaneously touching your stomach with the other hand.

Throughout the report I was grinding my teeth and shaking my head – a movement I call a “dismay churn”. Not because of the sickening cutesy-poo language, nor because I’m opposed to the nation’s kids being forced to exercise (make them box at gunpoint if you want) but because I care about the difference between fantasy and reality, both of which are great in isolation, but, like chalk and cheese or church and state, are best kept separate.
Honestly, the whole article is worth the read – https://goo.gl/EitPrw , and the comments that follow, though its audience is of the adult variety.

So what progress has been made over the last decade then? Firstly, Brain Gym, Learning styles, Multiple Intelligences, Left/right brain learners and other learning science neuro-myths have slowly and steadily been debunked, though probably not quickly enough to prevent too many schools wasting teachers and children’s time on them.  The basis of these neuromyths have been well intentioned; Howard Gardner in his work on multiple intelligences wasn’t trying to invent a new way of teaching, rather than debunk the post-war simplistic approach that advocated that brains could be trained to do anything.  Here’s Gardner writing back in 1993, 10 years after his seminal book Frames of mind. The theory of multiple intelligences was published: In the heyday of the psychometric and behaviorist eras, it was generally believed that intelligence was a single entity that was inherited; and that human beings – initially a blank slate – could be trained to learn anything, provided that it was presented in an appropriate way. Nowadays an increasing number of researchers believe precisely the opposite; that there exists a multitude of intelligences, quite independent of each other; that each intelligence has its own strengths and constraints; that the mind is far from unencumbered at birth; and that it is unexpectedly difficult to teach things that go against early ‘naive’ theories of that challenge the natural lines of force within an intelligence and its matching domains. (Gardner 1993: xxiii)

It’s easy with the wisdom of hindsight to work out how some in the ‘education gig economy’ thought you could just parcel up mini-packages of the above and peddle how a specific intelligence might be more rapidly developed.

Likewise, once those dramatic colour images of the human brain in action started Moral maze: advances in neurosurgery are often the result of risk-takingappearing alongside articles on cognitive science, it was amazing just how many myths re-emerged around whole brain/left brain/right brain learning.  That’s not to say that we don’t have different parts of our brain processing different things in different ways, but there are far too many interconnected neurons for us to imagine the bits don’t speak to each other at lightning speed. We’ve know from the very many head injuries endured by soldiers in wartime that damage in different areas causes irreversible damage to specific functions such as speech and sight, but we also know from the remarkable recoveries made by some that the very nature of the brain’s make up enables it to adjust and repair – this is called neuroplasticity, and actually we rely upon this in schools because the whole nature of a child’s growing development through education relies on the basis that neural connections can be made and remade. Here’s the dictionary definition of same:

neuroplasticity
ˌnjʊərəʊplaˈstɪsɪti/
noun
  1. the ability of the brain to form and reorganize synaptic connections, especially in response to learning or experience or following injury.
    “neuroplasticity offers real hope to everyone from stroke victims to dyslexics”

It’s not just the neuromyths that have needed debunking.  Technology has once again been touted as our saviour, this time in order to equip ourselves for life in the “21st century”.  Here’s leading thinker on education matters and government behaviour czar, Tom Bennett on that “You hear people say that children must have iPads in order to be 21st century learners, but when you look at the research that tries to substantiate this claim, it’s normally written by iPad manufacturers and technology zealots, and that’s fine, but don’t pretend it’s research,” he says. “Children don’t have the time to waste on that rubbish, especially poor children.”

The profession has been led by people such as Bennett, and research organisations such as the Education Endowment Foundation, who have clamoured for government to ensure that educational change is led by well-rehearsed scientifically endorsed programmes of study. It’s not just Brain-gym adoption that has let this country, the States and many other parts of the west down; whole swathes of the world have been force-fed linear learning and achievement levels up through which children should be marched and by which schools’ efficacy can be judged by government inspectors. The entire English National curriculum has needed to be torn down since 2008, because it was built on such well-intentioned thinking, with no research basis to back it up.

Here in England, we’ve seen the wholesale scrapping of the assessment mechanism using coursework, ‘controlled’ assessments and modular examinations for both GCSE and A levels, again because of the well-intentioned approach that children should be validated by what they achieve along the way as well as by that which can be passed in a terminal examination at the end of a 2 year period.  The first major problem that the above brought was the inevitable grade inflation that came with this approach, that being, if the subjects and courses become more accessible to children by way of the validation systems of assessment, then more children will achieve and succeed at the highest level. The second major problem that arose was that ‘higher achievement’ did not mean successful ‘skill acquisition and embedding’, such that a C grade pass in English and Maths did not mean the successful graduates were literate or numerate.

We are now in the new, brave tomorrow where all skills needed to be kept practiced and alive over a 2 year period , so that on assessment day the successful student can demonstrate that they have all the skills and knowledge at their disposal, and to be honest, so long as the terminal question papers are appropriately tailored, it’s likely good schools will be able to enable and empower just as many of its learners as hitherto to success.  The courses are deeper, richer and encourage time for thinking and personal research, because they are not being constantly interrupted by their own or other subject’s assessments.

So now the old myths have gone, what are the new ones emerging?

Firstly the most obvious one is that the general requirement for schools to have a much more academic and rigorous approach (in order that England can rise up the PISA tables, provide better students for the economy, now and the future). This is being translated by proxy into a narrowing of subject disciplines from the age of 5, and with children being identified as falling behind from the very start.  The use of assessment to determine whether children are making progress assumes that education is the ‘filling of a pail’.  Now I get that, so that so long as I can measure the depth of water in the pail, and ensure that a child’s learning keeps up, then those ‘falling behind’ can be spotted and chivvied along. The trouble is, whilst we can measure the depth of water, that’s not a proxy for the ‘depth of learning’. WB Yates reminded of this with his illusion that ‘Education is not the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire’, and it is so much harder to measure the latter.

One new parent to our school with a 7 year old spoke to me on Wednesday afternoon about the difference her son’s experience of education was since changing schools. “In his last school, all he did all  day was write”, and when I picked him up each day, he seemed exhausted by the experience, the day dragging interminably from  one writing experience to the next.  Here, the school day is 2 hours longer, and it seems to whistle by, because he has so many different things to do, such a wide variety of learning experiences to enjoy. ” Now that’s one way to measure the lighting of a fire, anecdotal of course and not easily put into a league table.

As austerity bites, so many of the broader programmes of study are being replaced by narrow, writing-only based disciplines in state schools. Many headteachers and schools are shouting the odds about this, and making a serious fuss, but others are gently pressing forward and seeking to become ‘Ofsted – outstandin’, by focussing on the progress grades achieved by those children in a narrow range of subjects and gently ‘losing’ the children that are not sufficiently compliant to this narrowing of approach.

Schools minister Nick Gibb

Spot the narrowing visible in the now ‘required’ English Baccalaureate; English, English Literature, Maths, sciences (inc computer science), History/Geography, an MFL and one other. “A multimillion pound investment in music and arts education will help hundreds of thousands of young people from all backgrounds enjoy potentially life changing cultural activities, Schools Minister Nick Gibb announced today (18 November 2016).

Over the next 4 years the government will provide £300 million to a network of 121 music education hubs to work with schools, local authorities and community organisations to get more young people taking part in music and arts.  Music hubs help hundreds of thousands of 5- to 18-year-olds each year access activities like playing an instrument, singing in a choir or joining a band. Today’s announcement will allow them to reach even more pupils.”

Previously, this was funded in some 25,000 state schools, so you can see why the subject of Music is in such danger now, because schools can point to the new ‘hubs’ and suggest that this activity is no longer part of their core business.  Art, Drama, Design/Food Technology, Music and RS are now in danger of disappearing as school competitive sporting provision has done before, because the priority for an academic education sanctions their ‘departure’.

Secondly, there is a gentle permissioning of parents to give up on their children, because parenting has become ‘harder’. This needs both careful consideration and checking, because whilst for individual adults of any generation, parenting can be made harder because of partner separation, work challenges and the like, the data doesn’t actually show this over time. Simple measures such as infant mortality have crashed more then tenfold over the last 100 years. There are though many challenges now, cheap junk food, glamour accessories and easy access to technology contributing to an affordable adolescent lifestyle that’s difficult to combat when at the same time children are surrounded by advertisement that empowers them to expect freedom and access to the above.  School can be a very successful antidote to this.

What’s not a myth is that schools play a central part in a child’s life, and adults therein are likely to spend more time with the children than the parents are able to.  As other parts of our welfare state aae squeezed to look after the aging end of our society, so schools need to offer more opportunities not less for the child as they pass through education.  It’s easier for these centres of excellence in understanding and managing children to do so than suggest a wider society should try harder. In just the same way that more GPs in a community leads in the longer term for hospitals and care homes to become less busy, so research-led schools that cover more of the education space will led to a safer society and better educated community.

All we need now is for the numbers of uniformed police to be increased once more. Whilst I have to accept that there are many more crimes now to be committed on-line, so that space needs care, I also know just how important it is to have school liaison officers who work locally and get known in all the schools. As with school nurses,  it’s not good enough to spread them so thinly that they are invisible.  And that’s no myth here RBWM, where there are no longer any police officers assigned to the role. RIP

And in 2018, that’s idiotic, whatever the cause.

 

 

 

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The Confidentiality paradox…

Confidentiality trust

Image courtesy of Caremark

As ever within Claires Court School, it has been a busy week. And that for week beginning Monday 22 January is more than just an understatement!
3 things in the public arena plus 1 inspection visit from out of the blue have a nasty habit of blowing you off line…or could of course, if the good ship CC didn’t have the most amazing crew of adults and children.
Item 1 of 4
Let’s go with the Independent Schools Inspection to start with…
Claires Court was last inspected in March 2014, so since last March ’17 we have been expecting our next inspection, as is the legal requirement parliament has placed upon DfE and their agent inspector organisations.
Claires Court sits alongside our nearest neighbour schools of Eton, Herries, Highfield, Redroofs, St. Pirans, and Wycombe Abbey (depending upon age/stage) as a member of the Independent Schools Council, so the DfE inspection framework for our schools is managed by the Independent Schools Inspectorate*.
When I say ‘we were inspected out of the blue’, that’s not quite the case.  We have been awaiting a phone call every Monday; my HoD History and wife takes a much more pragmatic view about schedules and calendars. “Just don’t answer the phone on Monday morning, James” she says each weekend knowingly. “As ISI only ring on Monday, that’s your permanent get out of jail card”.
My very good friend and colleague in leadership, Justin Spanswick, works like me as an Inspector within ISI, in addition to leadership within Claires Court. His best guess for our next was actually last March to the day, mine was 1 week less than 4 years; so since that first ‘failed’ guess by JMS, the reality is, I have spent every Sunday for 46 weeks polishing up our data so that ‘if we were rung 9am Monday, we’d be good to go. And pretty much every Monday morning, circa 9.15 Justin has checked by email or text;”Have we been rung?”.
Monday 22 January will go down in the annals of CC’s move to internet telephony as the day the internet broke our phones. Sadly, ISI still got through despite that break, circa 9.15 to let me know we were to be inspected this week. So much for Mrs Wilding’s cunning plan.
Fast forward to Thursday evening, the ISI team have come and gone, and as ever we are sworn to confidentiality on the outcomes. The visit has gone brilliantly well, the pupils and parents have responded magnificently in over a thousand responses to the ISI questionnaire, the inspectors work is done, and we now await our inspection report to share with you. Confidentiality on outcomes is assured in the meantime.
Item 2 of 4
The Claires Court planning application is in, and we are beginning to gather momentum CCcampus2this week. Inevitably, we are watching the reactions of those within RBWM who are developing their own opinions, and why not? We are a free and democratic country, and planning law permits this process of public scrutiny and exploration of views. The Maidenhead Advertiser letters’ column and other social media seem to have commenced casting me as a ‘pantomime villain’ and I know, and am so strongly advised by others, that I will for the time remain being ‘ever thus’. ‘Enjoy the moment and move on’ they say, because the application we have made is so very much more detailed than a few soundbytes in confidential email heaven. At the time of writing, it seems important to emphasise that our application be read in detail, to comprehend its contents and genuinely understand the seriousness of our intent. In the meantime, I am sworn to confidentiality, and to say nothing more; the school has made its case in detailed written form, and it is for those who wish to take an interest to read our case and consider their conclusions.

Item 3 of 4.

Today sees the latest publication of the DfE’s aggregation of exam results for both GCSE and A level. Suffice it to say that the DfE analysis is shared with us for 24 hours, before they break cover with its outcomes on the BBC, other news and media channels. We are sworn to secrecy… “there must be no break in confidentiality”, yet as dear reader you will spot therein, that trio of secondary independent schools I mention are all NP in the GCSE tables, and as for A level this year, seem too to be cast adrift with nonsensical data.

‘Baffling for parents’ is how Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, describes the secondary school performance tables; they cannot be compared with previous years because the government had “once again moved the goalposts”. Honestly, the publication is baffling to schools too!

At GCSE level, Claires Court is so erroneously reported, it’s beyond a joke. For example, our GCSE scientists in the main pursue ‘triple award science’, the papers being identical to the separate qualifications of Physics, Chemistry and Biology, but which ‘title’ of award you receive depends on timing and choice of ‘tick in the box’ framework. Many schools like us do not want children to give up on the science they don’t like, which they could by ‘downing tools’ on the separate subject award, so by going ‘triple’, it forces the child to buckle down and study for all three GCSE disciplines (Biology, Chemistry, Physics). This year, DfE rewards the alternative – you get credit for acquiring a C or higher grade in Physics, Chemistry or Biology separately, but whilst your triple award pathway is opening up all routes to A level and University Science degree, it registers ZERO on the DfE scale.

It’s the same at A level – just go look at Buckinghamshire, and it becomes very obvious that the better your pupils have done at GCSE, the worse they will gain as value-added at A level. In short, we can keep the outcomes of the DfE analysis confidential for 24 hours, but now they are released, it’s obvious that there was little point in requiring confidentiality because the ‘data published’ is simply ‘junk.

Item 4 of 4

Schools work within the ‘Health and Care’ system, and inevitably, our experience of the emergency care offered by the NHS is amazing, whether that be for children or staff. We’ve had three unfortunate major RTAs within the school community within the last fortnight, with the cars written off. It’s not appropriate for me to go into any detail, though in short, other drivers unlicensed or insured have been involved in the mayhem.  Fortunately, those involved are alive and well, thank you.  Creating a ‘safer’ society on the road always include education, and our Sixth Form attend the ‘Safe Drive, Stay Alive’ show every year to be informed, shocked and we hope educated to drive safely and be insured. The attendees this time round were handed a sealable cloth bag to hide their phone in, which prevents signal reaching the phone and distracting the driver. That’s an important innovation we could all think about acquiring moving beyond education and emergency care, the other health and care services are beginning to struggle to such an extent, that even when required care pathways are identified, the timescale for the commencement of support are stretching way into the future. I can’t tell you any of the details here, but at every age and stage we manage on a weekly bases cases of considerable need. Perhaps one of the biggest changes our school has wrought since the last inspection has been the introduction of our fully qualified school nursing staff, together with nationally recognised first aid training ‘school’ they can run for us. This last fortnight has seen all of our contracting coach company drivers receive updated training in safeguarding from our school nurses, because the local authorities no longer necessarily offer this service in a timely manner.

At the end of one of the busiest weeks ever, I am proud of all my staff in equal measure, but I give particular praise to the school nurses for their imaginative and professional solution-finding in a time of such challenge, and to our Administration and HR department, for working so hard to find the right kind of staff and solutions that support the school’s key values and ensuring that we stay safe in all that we do.

CClogo

“Proud of the Badge”

 

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Destination: PISA or ITALY for our children in schools?

Over recent years, the attention given by governments and the media to the outcomes from the international PISA assessments has become pretty intense. These assessments take place every three years, and their focus on the skills of 15 year olds covers Maths, Science and Reading, the latter being the focus for 2018. You can read more here – https://fullfact.org/education/what-you-dont-find-out-about-englands-educational-performance-pisa-league-table/

The English national focus has been on the achievements of both 10/11 and 15/16 year olds (Years 6 and 11), looking at the examination outcomes for English and Maths, and for Year 11 also to include 6 other subjects, one of which could be Literature, the others focussed on 2 sciences, 1/2 humanities, an MFL and one other (known as the EBACC). For state schools completing at the end of Year 6, the SATS outcomes for pupils dominate how the schools themselves are viewed by their inspectorate, Ofsted.  For state secondary pupils, getting the mix of subjects right has also become part of the judgment measure, to ensure the highest score in these 8 subjects to measure progress against the EBACC measure, more of that here.

Over the past 3 years, it’s become very apparent that performance in this explicit DfE measures has become an obsession for most state schools, because they have no opt out and they are judged against their performance as a school by the outcomes in these subjects.  The national and educational media, coupled with Institutes of Education across the country are reporting a groundswell of dissatisfaction of the consequences of this relentless focus to drive up standards so our state school pupils perform  better in comparison with other countries. Some schools are disapplying their weakest pupils as quickly as possible to get them ‘off roll’, others are shutting down the teaching of all other subjects other than English and Maths in the final year of primary school, whilst at secondary school, subjects as diverse as Art, Drama, Music, RS, Technology and Sport are seeing numbers of pupils and teachers spiralling downwards as the subjects don’t carry the same value for the educational league table, if at all.

From pedagogical, philosophical and social mobility stand-points, this is an utter disaster for the children, because it is not permitting them to build domain expertise in sufficient areas that interest them at an appropriate age. Junior children are no longer able to draw accurately, and fear the process because it does not come naturally. Secondary children see creative and athletic disciplines as something they might do at the weekend, competing of course with all the other engagements that adolescents have to content with at the same time. Obviously, if the children are fortunate to go to a performing arts school or specialist sport or technology college, this is not the case, but the practical facts of the matter are that the focus has changed from specialisms to the core, and schools are choosing the same for all of their pupils, despite its obvious lack of merit for their broader educational development.

I have no problem if travellers wish to go to PISA, check out the leaning tower, look around the attached cathedral, get their photo taken holding it up or pushing it down, and sending that image as a postcard back home to prove they got there, bought the T-shirt, dropped the feather and ball from the top of the tower to explore gravity and then come back home. But that focussed journey is not the same as spending rather more time in ITALY, a country of great and diverse representations of culture from Ancient Rome to the present day. Their art, technology, music, drama food and philosophical thinking bursts upon the visitor and engages us in so many more ways, and this takes time, effort and commitment to get the full picture.  In the end, no doubt the tour operators will rub their hands with glee if they can reduce costs by increasing volume to the one city, grow the communication channels by increasing plane, hotel and bus size, with the expertise of the support team reduced to knowing the 10 pages from the guide book and testing same via extensive essay writing and number crunching around the limited palate of knowledge, skills and understanding required to visit PISA and return.

But if we want to develop the kind, caring, supportive, skillful and successful adults to lead the future of our country, they need to be permitted to be more than just tourists to PISA, pursuing a narrow course of study judged primarily by a tick box culture against core standards.  Reductionism of this kind reduces quality, not grows it; read this article published today on the future of Design Technology to see just how challenging the matter has become in a subject which really has to be at the heart of what every school offers its children from 11-14 – https://www.teachertoolkit.co.uk/2018/01/13/saving-design-technology/

We don’t get it all right in the independent sector by any means.  For example in my school, I need to be able to extend the girls programme to bring resistant materials and robotics into the mix, and the boys to add food and textiles. But at least the design experience and skill applications are covered by all pupils in a sustained way for 3 years, and the potential designer/builder has been inspired by age 14. The whole educational country,  be that ITALY, ENGLAND or wherever, needs its landscape explored. Sure, there are fun things to find in PISA, but that’s not enough to nourish and inspire our children.  It’s disappointing that our sector is receiving even greater blame for supporting privilege and elitism, when in our own minds we are doing quite the reverse. Certainly, the development of the whole child and our focus on growing great young adults, with excellent temperaments and a willingness to strive, is of greater importance than exam results.  Conservative minister and minister of health in the House of Lords, James O’Shaughnessy, who spent 4 years at Claires Court as a child spoke with great passion about the development of character education in schools being of paramount importance when he visited us in September last year. I ask the question – what kind of character to you build in a PISA tourist as opposed to a traveller who spends the time and trouble across ITALY?

In short, let’s not encourage educational tourism only to a narrow core band where success is measured through the passing of an exam.  None of us make best friends with people because of their grades, but because they have a much broader knowledge and understanding of who they are and how they fit, and the skills to make their lives all come out well, wherever they find themselves placed as adults in this world. I leave you with the writings of Plato, who was a philosopher in Classical Greece and the founder of the Academy in Athens, the first institution of higher learning in the Western world.
I woudl teach children Music = Plato

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Mr Wilding’s 9 lessons for learning in 2018

20171208_151611.jpgIt’s that time of year when the Season in which we are expected to be jolly has passed and the school bells are soon to ring in the New Year. Here’s yours truly on Christmas Jumper day on end-of-term Friday, standing by the tree at Senior Boys, showing some of the hampers soon to off into our local community via the Lions, Foodshare and the Salvation Army.  I had the photo taken because I had been invited to write a Fly-on-the-wall end of term item for Schools Week, one of the professional journals that report on Education matters, and they wanted a photo to go with the article. You can read that here: https://goo.gl/duUFz2.  It struck me that in line with the 9 lessons and carols, Tim Minchin’s 9 life lessons, it was time I added to the set of 9 with my own 9 lessons for learning, gathered over the 42 years I have been a teacher. Where possible, a bit like the advent calendar, I have tried to illustrate a little more with a link to something more luscious.

  1. If you can do but one thing to help others learn, be kind, both to them and yourself.
  2. If you are planning to teach, know your stuff.
  3. If you are planning to learn, sleep well, and in between try to ‘know’ stuff by learning it.
  4. Whether you are planning to teach or planning to learn, do so with a passion.
  5. As teachers and learners, keep your eyes on the ‘near horizon’ so you know where you are going, but keep them open for other possibilities along the way.
  6. Understand your intelligence arise from 3 parts – a. your cognitive efficiency (brain-power, mainly down to short-term memory) b. crystallised intelligence (stuff you know) and c. fluid intelligence (how you see patterns, make links across areas and use logic), and in knowing what you use best, work with that whilst seeking to improve the other bits.
  7. Lead a rich and diverse life at whatever your age; interleaving and spacing what you do, and see and listen to with lots of other activities, which helps ‘grow’ your fluid intelligence.
  8. Get lucky by practicing lots, by learning stuff by rote and putting that learning under pressure by testing yourself.
  9. Keep striving. Achievements open doors; sometimes those achievements are paper-based, such as GCSE and A level grades and get you a place on a training programme or at University,  others are practical, such as passing your driving test or an ‘open mike’ night audition, which give you new opportunities. Never give up, because actually none of us ever do…

So, please do have a great Learning Year in 2018, bearing in mind that that we are forever forgetting. Though that is another post.

 

 

 

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The Fascination of What’s Difficult – W.B. Yeats

420px-william_butler_yeats_by_george_charles_beresford“The fascination of what’s difficult
Has dried the sap out of my veins, and rent
Spontaneous joy and natural content
Out of my heart. There’s something ails our colt
That must, as if it had not holy blood
Nor on Olympus leaped from cloud to cloud,
Shiver under the lash, strain, sweat and jolt
As though it dragged road metal. My curse on plays
That have to be set up in fifty ways,
On the day’s war with every knave and dolt,
Theatre business, management of men.
I swear before the dawn comes round again
I’ll find the stable and pull out the bolt.”

Yeats wrote this poem in the early part of the last century, at a time when his fame as a poet was world wide, but his ambition was to become renowned as a playwright; his joy of writing for the stage was clearly tempered by the experience of working with those that ran theatres and bankrolled their productions. In short, he hoped to break through the crippling need for perfectionism in the creation of his poetry, whilst maintaining both its complexity and ambiguity. As the final sentence suggests, Yeats ‘ere longed to release his creative self to write unburdened of the rules of the game.

2018 is set to be a milestone year for my work, one in which we seek to win permission to build a new campus for our school.  The purchase of the adjacent field by our Junior Boys school at Ridgeway 4 years ago reunited much of the package of land originally put together by a Mr Louis Gilau, a South African as it turns out, his own trade being that of a ‘Diamond merchant’.  During my father’s time as headteacher at Ridgeway, he would regularly suggest to new pupils and parents that they should keep their eyes peeled for any ‘lost’ jewels left behind by Mr Gillow; sadly none have turned up, so the investment we need for the new buildings will have to come from a mix of capital obtained from the sale of our other 2 sites, if possible from the building of houses on part of the estate, and from a commercial loan.

There is no doubt that that our school needs to be released from the constraints it currently faces, spread across Maidenhead and increasingly cramped by the issues of space and unequal distribution of facilities across the 3 sites.  I remember my first contact with RBWM planning officers in 1982, when they first expressed the opinion that the senior boys school site was overdeveloped for its purpose. Over subsequent 35 years, our school has grown as the town has grown, we’ve gained new accommodation and added girls into the mix. With both sets of residents in the Ray Mill and College areas keen to keep the roads uncluttered with parking, parking restrictions grow like topsy, yet we can’t bring all of our traffic onto site without reducing still further the space in which education can happen.

There remains a pressing need to increase the efficiency of our school by bringing our separate site operations together; maintaining the separation of genders for the middle part of their educational development will remain a key construct, but increasing the opportunities for social development across the genders is a growing imperative, one not just for this school but for the wider community.  It’s fascinating to see the success our partnership sports organisations enjoy doing just the same, be that in Athletics, Cricket, Hockey, Rowing, Rugby, Sailing or Tennis.  There is an intensity of engagement required to maximise performance, but at the same time, a need to ensure rest and recuperation within the wider community.  I’ve noticed this most recently with our elite performing Tennis players, who work jointly with us and Delgado and Lee’s Pro Tennis Academy, Living Tennis, at Bisham Abbey.

Developing Tennis players need upwards of 20 hours a week of ‘Court’ time (20 hours on court as well as at school), but clearly other skills and talents need to be developed alongside, and not just those within a narrow academic programme. Rubbing along in a much bigger school assists those players to accept failure is a normal part of learning, permits them socialise with others,  above all helping build a sense of mutual respect despite differences.

It has often been said that Education is the most complex of all human activities, given that all the moving parts are living organisms, capable of their own independent thoughts and with their own idiosyncratic ambitions.  It’s clear that such a description can be given to the methodology that underpins making planning application as well, because all those component parts consist of human entities, with their own hopes and ambitions as well. I have every hope that this author will not feel like the ‘colt’ in Yeats’ poem, forced to ‘shiver under the lash, strain, sweat and jolt’ as if pulling the broken stone required for road-making.  Perhaps in 12 months time, I will be able to report on the outcomes from the process I outline above.

In the meantime, I bid you (perhaps as W.B Yeats would) “Sláinte mhaith” for 2018, and in the light of the other many serious negotiations going on in England over the next 12 months, mix the metaphor with this very Royal message!keep-calm-and-slc3a1inte-mhaith

 

 

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Academic Principal’s End of Term message – Christmas 2017

JTWXmas2017Imagine my surprise when the girls of Year 5 presented via Santa the postman the Christmas card you see me holding here in the picture. “To Mr Wilding” it said. I have never, ever (forgive a failing mind, by the way) ever been presented with a card like this. As I opened it up, the hairs on the back of my neck bristled, as every child in the class had written a personal message wishing Mr Wilding a Happy Christmas or similar. Mrs Helen Phipps, our amazing school secretary at College followed up helpfully: “I did ask the girls for which Mr Wilding was the card intended, but they could not answer me”. Ouch.  So whilst I am holding the said card in the picture, may I express on behalf of both Mr Wildings how grateful we are for these very kind thoughts, and my brother Hugh, in whose care the card now resides, also sends his thanks.

Throughout the term, the headteachers and the head of nursery lead their respective weekly bulletins with their words of the week.  As a general observation, the higher up the school, the less written; all aim to give a particular insight into the age and stage of the pupils for whom they care, and so it can be no surprise that they tailor for their specific audience. Whether their message hits their expected audience is as much of a guess as mine was above. We hope so, but in the end whin knows?

At the same time, many of you are kind enough to click on the Academic Principal’s blog button, and catch up on my wider musings, or switch over to Facebook to view our offerings there, or perhaps jump to @clairescourt and our other Twitter channels to read what the news looks like in short form, or perhaps bounce back to the school’s main website to see the regular and rapidly moving newsfeed on your children’s achievements. Often we appear to have ‘too much’ happening, so you need to be selective in what and where you browse.

That’s where the Court Report comes in, our annual statement of achievements now in its third year.  Every family should receive a hard copy of the Court Report with their eldest son or daughter when they come home from school this Friday, together with other end of term glories, such as grade cards, reports and other notices. The Court Report captures almost all of our measurables in easy to read format; you may need to take it gently because there is a lot to digest and I do want you to avoid ‘data indigestion’.

That’s true of us on the other two sides, be we teachers or parents. Everyone of my staff faces information overload, and our pupils need to be very careful that they don’t swap from the real world into the ‘virtual’ world; both can readily lose sight of the important things that need to be done come Monday.  Indeed parents, pupils and staff went away at half-term, with a promise to turn off their devices and every intention to digitally detox. I  have no doubt that Christmas will be made all the more enjoyable, on the one hand by being able to catch up with all your family and friends wherever they are in the world via Skype, and on the other by switching off the media stream and chilling out with all those near and dear to you at home in person.  As a by-line, it’s interesting to note that France is to ban all mobile phones from schools in their entirety from September 2018.

With this in mind, I draw to your attention the important information of a police focus here in the UK on social media and child exploitation.  We would like to take this opportunity to remind you that Thames Valley Police continue to investigate explicit videos that are distributed via social media, eg Snapchat, Instagram.  If any such video is received by our children or indeed adults, the police must be informed and it must be deleted; if it is shown or passed on it is a criminal offence. Further advice for both children and parents about how to stay safe online is available on the National Crime Agency’s Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) command website: https://www.ceop.police.uk/safety-centre/
If your child or a child you know has been affected by such a video they are encouraged to speak to parents / teachers / trusted adult /contact ChildLine on 0800 1111 for further support.

One of our amazing school leaders, Andy Giles who runs the Sixth Form, is choosing to lighten his load more than somewhat, by stepping down into retirement at the end of August.  His deputy Stephanie Rogers is rising to take charge in his place next September, and further appointments to support this change will be announced in the New Year. We have already announced other leadership developments, with Justin Spanswick joining me to work more corporately and Dean Richards joining us from Hampton Prep School in his stead.  Such activity is multiplied manyfold by the wide and diverse nature of the staff professional development undertaken here. With 400 staff, it’s a tall order for us to find the time and place for it all, so almost inevitably we now have substantial amounts of CPD delivered on-line and remotely.

January 2018 heralds other developments for Claires Court, as our new first aid training centre, led by Jane Webster, School Nurse at Junior Boys, builds capacity to cover all of our many First Aid, Sports Aid, even Mental First Aid needs. Our teacher training escalates apace, and familiar faces will be seen in new roles as knowledge, skills and understanding are built further. We will also be in touch for your support behind our longer term plans for our new campus, due for submission shortly and for determination in the first half of 2018.

I close my end of term report with the words written by former pupil, Dr Paul Zeun whoPZ joined Claires Court when aged 11 and left Year 13 in 2005 bound for medical school. He wrote to me on Monday, the day it was announced that “the defect that causes the neurodegenerative disease Huntington’s has been corrected in patients for the first time” by a research team at UCL.  Paul joined the team in April this year, after 7 years of work culminating as a neurology registrar in Southampton.  “Today is a hugely exciting day in our department as for the first time, this drug has been able to reduce the amount of the faulty protein (mutant huntingtin protein) that is known to be the cause of the disease and it has been shown to have been safe so far. This paves way for a larger study that based on the above, has significant promise for being the first drug to effectively treat Huntington’s disease and slow/stop progression.  It is an absolute delight and privilege to be a small part in such a brilliant research group at an incredibly exciting time for HD research”.

Paul concluded “I wanted to email you because it reminds me of how fortunate I am that I was afforded such a fantastic start in life at Claires Court and how grateful I am that you and all my teachers gave me the skills and opportunities I needed to have such a rewarding and fulfilling career to date.

Such messages of thanks from former pupils are among the many things that keep me and so many of my colleagues here keen and motivated to come to work each day. Even more inspirational is the extraordinary support today’s parents and pupils have given us during this last term.  As the end of 2017 beckons, let’s remember our good fortune to have been able to share so much – we are indeed fortunate and my brother and I thank our lucky stars each day that we lead this school at a time of such opportunity.

In case my dear readers though that besuited Principals are the only images to be seen, other pictures of my good self at Christmas time are available.

Best wishes one and all.20171208_151611.jpg

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Why every child has a chance to become a genius in 2018!

Every user of social media will have come across the many and varied video streams that set out to educate and inspire each day. Here’s one from Goalcast, covering musician/comedian Tim Minchin’s acceptance speech of an Honorary doctorate from the University of Western Australia, where he had previously studied for his Arts degree.

If you have time, do watch the 18 minutes or so that Dr Tim gives the WA audience, because he hits multiple nails on the head really well. If there is a specific section that strikes me best, it sits 3:16 in when he has this to say about how to achieve well:

“I advocate passionate, dedication to the pursuit of short-term goals. Be micro-ambitious. Put your head down and work with pride on whatever is in front of you. You never know where you might end up. Just be aware the next worthy pursuit will probably appear in your periphery, which is why you should be careful of long-term dreams. If you focus too far in front of you you won’t see the shiny thing out the corner of your eye. “

All the world’s leading advocates of ‘what works best’ are clear about the need to become really expert in the things you are passionate about.  If you don’t have a passion, still get your head down and learn stuff, because it is in the acquisition of knowledge, skills and understanding (KSU) about a person or a subject that a passion can be discovered, be that of course love for the person or the field of enquiry.

The header for this week’s blog comes from the Walltowall people who run the Child Genius TV series for Channel 4 and they are looking for gifted children aged 8-12 (and their families) to take part. Casting Assistant Producer Anna Greenaway wrote to me today to inform me of the above, and added in her email: “Currently I am seeking applications for the 2018 series and would love to hear from the parents of gifted and talented children who may be interested. Additionally one of the last weekends in January we will be holding a Mensa backed Open Day and are keen to speak to parents who might be interested in registering their child/children for this whole day event. This is an opportunity for 8-12 year olds to get involved in Mensa Challenges, quick fire quizzes, Strategic puzzles being just a few examples, but also to meet with other families”.

Let’s be fair, dear reader, we are not the only institution with amazing children herein. No doubt Anna’s written to every school in the country to widen her trawl, but these are busy times and most of the info will end up in the digital dustbin. So those of you out there, please do think about having a go – if you don’t, you’ll never know whether you could have made the grade.  I remember when the cox, Gary Herbert (Gold medal with the Searle brothers at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992) spoke at our school speech day shortly after that event.  He made it clear “If not you, who?  If not now, when!”  That’s one great life lesson I learned from a man who learned it the most difficult way possible, training for 4 years to become an Olympian. Anna concludes her email as follows: “Please be assured that there is no obligation to take part in the programme but for anyone potentially interested in hearing more about it can call me direct on 0203 301 8480. With thanks and kindest regards, Anna.”

Tim Minchin also sets out in this video to give some life lessons, 9 of course to echo of course the nine lessons of carols of the traditional Christmas service, of which we are holding at least 3 school versions next Friday morning. My teaser for next week’s blog is it’s title “Mr Wilding’s 9 lessons for learning”, based on the clearest evidence we now have on how learning happens best.  In the meantime, let me leave you with Minchin’s closing sentiments from his address, which though now at least 4 year’s old feel as fresh now as they must have sounded then:

“And in my opinion, until I change it, life is best filled by learning as much as you can about as much as you can. Taking pride in whatever you’re doing. Having compassion, sharing ideas, running, being enthusiastic and then there’s love and travel and wine and sex and art and kids and giving and mountain climbing, but you know all that stuff already. It’s an incredibly exciting thing this one meaningless life of yours. Good luck and thank you for indulging me.”

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