Why does the Public Estate need both support and challenge? Is this true of Education as well?

Executive summary

The current national provision of education in England is in the same degree of crisis as is the provision of health & social care or justice & prison services, the management of our water supply & sewage services, the complex ecosystem of domestic and business energy supply and of course the chaos within national transport systems. Now is not the time to choose one of our country’s greatest successes (and international exports), UK Independent Schools education, and break that too. 

Education & the Public Estate

The Independent sector in education is diverse, covering the breadth of childcare needs and schooling for those of privilege, for those who aspire, and those who are most disabled in our society. Without our sector, we simply would not have sufficient nursery, schooling (boarding or day), expert music, ballet, dance or special needs settings for the country. Our existence both compliments and supplements those services that should be available for local families who have children, and if access to those services were freely available, then our sector would not represent 84% of childcare, 7% of school places age 5-16, 25% of the Sixth Form market. Whilst I do not know the %, the existence of almost 800 independent schools providing very specialist educational, medical and therapeutic services highlights just how important our existence is to meet current demand in the UK. By even more specific example here in RBWM, over 20% of the children are privately educated in schools at any given time, though certainly not for every age and stage. The 3 state nurseries across the borough are supplemented by dozens of independent providers (there simply would be no capacity otherwise), and whilst we have 2 very specialist SEN state schools, in addition we have a private school which covers a different need, one for those with social, emotional and developmental trauma related difficulties, opened only 10 years ago and now a national beacon for its provision. Whilst it charges fees for its schooling it provides, almost all its revenue comes from adjacent local authorities, being the only setting suitable for the children concerned.

Of course I understand that our sector has come under particularly careful scrutiny, having seen the antics of the ‘chumocracy’ that has imbued Downing Street’s decision making over the last decade, with the various politicians concerned linked to their former schools and colleges. Those ‘great public schools’ may very well have educated the politicians concerned, but the vast majority of products that come from our sector cannot be tarred with the same brush. The problems education in England has are deep and diverse, further exacerbated in Scotland and Wales, and the cause is certainly not the presence or indeed existence of Private schools.

Nursery & childcare crisis

One of our national charities, Children England, acts as a voice for the children young people and families voluntary sector, promoting the sector’s interest and ensuring its views are heard in national and local decision making structures which have a bearing on work with children and families. It has this to say about the current state of play in the nursery sector: “In 2016, the OECD highlighted that a market-based approach to childcare leaves public authorities with less control over fees and less control over when and where services are provided. It identified that market dynamics can result in for-profit providers drifting away from less profitable areas, so that very young children in poorer neighbourhoods are sometimes left without any provision at all.  This is certainly the case in England, where childcare is of high cost but relatively poor quality, as noted by the OECD. High-quality childcare is often only available to wealthier families because access to high quality provision is constrained by income and location. The regulatory framework focuses on how childcare is provided but not on its quality; it does not have a responsibility to ensure equality of access for children and parents or ensure fair terms and conditions for childcare workers. As a result, the childcare system is characterised by inequalities of access, poor quality, financial instability and poor working conditions. In September 2021, during the Westminster Hall debate on the call for an independent review into the cost and affordability of childcare in England, Steve Brine MP (Conservative Chair of APPG on Childcare and Early Education) spoke of ‘market failure in this sector’ and ‘urgent need for reform’.1

Education & reform

One of the most notable features of the current state education landscape is that the various reforms over the last 30 years have ended up with a smorgasbord of provision.  Here is one summary from the Finnish educator, Pasi Sahlberg writing 10 years ago in 2012 “In the UK, 30 years of these reforms has led to layer upon layer of change and a degree of complexity that could conceivably take at least another 30 years to unravel, even assuming that the ‘powers that be’ think this necessary. We now have a UK education system which has shifted to decentralisation with over 70 different types of schools, whilst at the same time increasing centralisation through the introduction of the national curriculum and increased testing.”

And what the academic researchers looking at what Finland have reported is that its undoubted success in education is because its schools have avoided the standardisation of curriculum activities to match PISA assessments, the implementation of high stakes testing and the homogeneity of learning materials from global providers as seen almost everywhere else. Sahlberg calls this common way of improvement “The Global Educational Reform Movement or GERM. It is like an epidemic that spreads and infects education systems through a virus. It travels with pundits, media and politicians. Education systems borrow policies from others and get infected. As a consequence, schools get ill, teachers don’t feel well, and kids learn less.”2

GERM infections have various symptoms and occur across multiple industries not just education, though here is Sahlberg again “The first symptom is more competition within education systems. Many reformers believe that the quality of education improves when schools compete against one another. In order to compete, schools need more autonomy, and with that autonomy comes the demand for accountability. School inspections, standardized testing of students, and evaluating teacher effectiveness are consequences of market-like competition in many school reforms today. Yet when schools compete against one another, they cooperate less.”

I run a school that prefers the Finnish model. Our teachers are highly qualified, are supported to become experts in their chosen age and stage, write and develop the curricular activities in line with the best of learning science, enabled by excellent technology, physical and practical activities of sufficient breadth that all interest and aptitudes are met. Whilst academic achievement and examination success are essential outcomes from what we do, so are the personal qualities, resilient nature and employability skills for the future. Indeed what we do almost exactly matches the Times Education commission demands of our country. “The commission has highlighted the importance of taking a serious, long-term approach to education, from the early years, through school, to further and higher education and lifelong learning, to better prepare young people for the challenges they face.” 3

Claires Court offers a route through the childhood years of education as holistic as any could dare to wish for, save for its cost. Because we exist at the scale and size we are, despite the substantial financial investment parents are required to make, if nothing else we are a reminder to the government of what it says its own schools should provide, yet they can’t because the same government won’t make the resources available. 

As a society, we did not need to learn this lesson from a Finnish commentator, for at about the same time, Stewart Ranson, Emeritus Professor at Warwick University, was also saying much the same thing: “Over the past 20 years the neo-liberal agenda of choice and competition in schools has undermined public education. When the present contradictions finally implode, the nation will need a Royal Commission that leads a national conversation to rebuild education based on justice. Education should not depend on power and wealth, but on recognising that extending all the capabilities of all children is the nation’s first public good (Ranson 2010:158).”

State v Private

There is no one in business who would ever argue that state monopolies are a good thing. Equally, over the past decade and more, we can see that left to their own devices, the private sector is unable to meet all of the country’s needs without state direction or indeed intervention. Recent spotlight activities, such as checking on the country-wide habit of all privatised water companies to release raw sewage into our rivers and coastal waters. or the failure to invest in the rail infrastructure across the north of England by their franchise holders have led to calls for both these industries to be renationalised. Current discussions around the completely fragmented care system seek perhaps a nationalised solution that echoes the Beveridge plan that created the NHS in 1948. The trouble is with such proposals is that where we have examples of state direction of national services, such as the Court and Judiciary system and its associated prison service and indeed the National Health service some 74 years later, all commentators make clear that their very fragmentation has led to their current crisis, probably may actually have caused them to be broken. And of course, there is little doubt that in recent years, the country’s decision to leave the EU has also badly damaged not just our trading links with our neighbouring countries but destabilized our relationship with Eire and Scotland, the latter of course being part of our United Kingdom. 

There certainly needs to be a concerted effort across almost all of the ‘collective’ industries and services to return to a national minimum standard of provision. For Water companies, this clearly would involve returning to the Environment Agency the teeth as well as the power to regularly check (and praise or hold to account) those companies for the provision of water services, and that certainly requires more financial resources to be available. For Rail, much the same is required for the Office of the Rail Regulator, Court services by the Courts & Tribunals Service, the NHS & care services by the Department for Health and Social Care. I have not included the provision of power, electricity & gas, so far in the narrative above, but it too is facing the biggest crisis in our living memory; government rescues started for the smaller power providers who could not cope after all well before the current conflict in Ukraine, but now includes every business and house holder in the UK. Ofgem has some of this authority, though only the Chancellor of the Exchequer had the authority to bridge pro tem with his emergency bail-out. 

Benjamin Moore, a Liverpool physician had great foresight and a pioneering vision of the future in healthcare, written in “The Dawn of the Health Age”, leading to his creation of State Medical Service Association which held its first meeting in 1912 some 30 years before Aneurin Bevan opened the first NHS hospital in Manchester. When Margaret Thatcher gave council tenants ‘the right to buy’, she was largely extending Christopher Addison’s Housing Act (1919) that commenced their construction 61 years previously, providing then ‘Homes for Heroes’ returning after the Great War, and alleviating the vast housing shortage of the time. When Richard Beeching’s report on the state of our railways in 1963, it was trying to rescue the almost bankrupt British Rail established 25 years previously; it led to the creation of a national network of railways lines and the closure of 5000 miles of uneconomic branch lines, and the arrival of those improved routes permitted the commuter belt to spread much wider outside the cities, and even proposed both the construction of the Channel tunnel and HS2. Despite subsequent grumbles, Bevan, Thatcher and Beeching’s reforms were much needed at the time and helped solve a host of problems. Where their reforms have been let down, as in the other examples given too, is that the solutions proffered have simply not been followed by the sustained focussed investment needed, in short where politicians chose other routes for the development of their government, they cease to maintain the very investment the programme of reform the authors/architects identified as essential.

Crisis

Here in 2022, we are suffering the almost perfect storm, where every aspect of public life and national services are calling all at once for major additional investment, at a time of course when because of the 2010 austerity measures and the 2020-22 pandemic have emptied the nation’s bank account. I fear that in the same way our nation was sidetracked into blaming immigration for our many woes and thus leading to a change in government that created Brexit, what we don’t need now is an arms race by the politicians of all hues to blame private schools for the woes of the country too, and thus bring to power politicians prepared to destroy our sector. The suggestion we are all ‘tax-dodging and preservers of privilege’ is so very much not the case with my school or nursery, or the hundreds of others like us. We take almost no public money unless local government enables same (nursery funding for 3-4 year olds and EHCP costs for SEN places), pay full council tax on our properties, corporation tax on our profits, are centres of teacher and nursery worker training, we are investing in all, and are beacons of excellence whose existence benefits the wider community. 

And I’ll conclude with the writing of David Gillard, former headteacher, turned journalist and writer, whose free book, Education in England, a history of our schools4 spans 20 years of research (1998-2018) and is its own very good read. His words on teachers, could easily cover nurses, all other public sector workers and those in private businesses covering country-wide services that keep our civil society alive and working:  “Meanwhile, across the country, tens of thousands of teachers still care deeply about the well-being and prospects of their pupils, and go to work every morning determined, despite the often unhelpful interventions of politicians, to provide them with the best and most humane education they can.” 

1. https://www.childrenengland.org.uk/the-childcare-market-in-england 

2. https://pasisahlberg.com/text-test/ 

3. https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/times-education-commission-report4. http://www.educationengland.org.uk/history

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The Inspector calls…

There is no one who works in schools anywhere in the country who doesn’t welcome the School Inspectors without some trepidation. As a constituent member of one of the Associations (ISA 600+ schools) under the Independent Schools Council, Regulatory Compliance and Education Quality Inspections are managed and staffed by the Independent Schools Inspectorate, for whom our former Executive Headteacher, Justin Spanswick occasionally works as a Reporting Inspector (RI). Our last Inspection was January 2018; it’s deemed that schools are not safe if left for more than 3 years, so it was with come welcome relief that I ‘took the call’ first thing Monday morning, and from Tuesday to Thursday this week we have had a team of 9 inspectors in our establishment to check through the 400+ regulations we are required to observe for the safe and effect running of our school(s). If you are keen, you can check them out (here), but please don’t try too hard, as many of the Regs have additional guidance alongside to expand, explain and make them recognisable.

You can start with the first one, if you like:

(2) For the purposes of paragraph (2)(1)(a), the matters are—

(a)full-time supervised education for pupils of compulsory school age (construed in accordance with section 8 of the Education Act 1996), which gives pupils experience in linguistic, mathematical, scientific, technological, human and social, physical and aesthetic and creative education;

Now what on earth might that look like, I hear you ask? Here is ours by way of example, which has some 3000 words, some graphical images and some really vital sentences tha make our curriculum very much what Claires Court stands for ⬥ Curriculum Policy http://schl.cc/13

Now I promise you I am not going to go into any more detail on this or the other hundreds of reg requirements, but by way of example, this highlights the very big challenge ISI have when sending a team in, because we are inspected in addition against what we say we do, as opposed to in publicly owned schools where they are inspected against what the government asks them to pursue. With every independent school being unique, and with Claires Court Schools Ltd. being the largest proprietorially owned in England, that doubles the complication as not only are the aims. values and learning philosophies of our own making, but the owners too are unique!

So today we have been reflecting on a great job, well done. Under intense scrutiny, schools just have to move into synchrony, everyone knowing their part and creating the story live in real time. Tuesday to Wednesday Lunchtime had 3 inspectors checking all of the dry regulations that don’t include children. From staff recruitment, safeguarding, H&S, transport, fire drills and all, no stone is left unturned, documented and as appropriate squeezed a little to keep in shape. Wednesday & Thursday had teachers and children in the mix. Once notified on Monday morning, parents, children and staff had been invited to make comment by 8pm on the ISI feedback form, the responses setting up trails of queries for the inspectors to pursue. Many thanks to everyone that participated; their comments remind school and inspectors that there are some big issues to praise, challenge and query.

Yesterday evening, Mrs Kirby, Mr Richards, Mrs Rogers, my brother Hugh and I received some 75 minutes of feedback which sounded really knowledgeable, informed, appreciative, respectful and indeed celebratory. We thanked the Team as much as they thanked us – it genuinely is as much a privilege for inspectors to visit schools such as ours as it is to welcome them from their successful careers, current and past in schools like ours. As a currently resting RI, I know just what an all consuming affair inspection is; perhaps the most ‘interesting’ bit is learning which hotel ISI have found for you (Premier Inn by Maidenhead station) in the hope that there will be good beds, good lighting in the room, good wifi, breakfast and dinner to match. Once the inspection is over, inspectors go home, exhausted, complete their sectional writing and first draft of report for next Thursday…. and then sometime in January 2023 the Reports are published (Compliance & Education Quality), and we get to decide how to respond to the required recommendations as a consequence.

In the meantime, what happened is wrapped in confidentiality, with Leadership, Management and staff turning up the next day as if nothing had happened. Which of course is impossible, if for one reason and one reason only – the children. Claires Court hosts an amazing community of children, young making their first ‘baby steps’ through to the ‘almost’ grown up young people completing their sixth form studies, driving to and from school and planning their next steps into Apprenticeship, College, Gap beak, University and/or the world of WORK. I do not break confidentiality to say just how impressed our visitors were with the young people they saw over the 3 days, with some directly emailing in or making contact direct. Of course we await the report, but as it was my seventh school inspection in 32 years, I won’t hold my breath. The report has to be short, to the point, succinct and with a reading age of 14 or less. I recall the first report I wrote was full of my best ‘purple prose’ – the first draft was returned covered in ‘blood’ red corrections, one page seemingly entirely scarlet in colour. The last, for Badminton school down near Bristol is one of those Compliance only reports, to be found here – still alive and soon to be replaced I imagine.

Thursday night was the PTA Christmas Market at CCJB, and the first night of our musical showcase ‘Oh Britannia’ tonight at Senior Boys, with tomorrow lots more of school life too, which rather makes day-time snapshotting schools for inspection a pretty ‘shallow dig’ after all, as none of the really lovely stuff gets seen and heard. Happy days indeed, the Inspectors have gone away for another Year or 3 – lets hope we don’t get another pandemic in the meantime to close down our lives once more.

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The Powerful Force for Remembrance 2022

Over my lifetime in Education, I have seen enormous benefits from taken the time to commemorate Armistice Day on 11 November and the period around for schools and their community to take time out of the working day to observe, reflect and recognise our duty to recall the amazing sacrifice of others in the armed forces and, more recently, the involvement of those in wider public service, whose work during periods of emergency and crisis have kept our country safe.

They say of course that ‘Data Never Lies’, though more generally the people that twist if for their own ends are often caught out in mistruths. The reality is that 1 in 25 of our UK adult citizens have served in the forces, that public service generally is the largest employer in the UK, so that when the history books reflect on our nation’s management of society during the Coronavirus epidemic, they’ll record just how much of that was due to the selfless sacrifice of the forces, emergency and public services more generally.

My school is proud of the burgeoning Combined Cadet Force we see at work every Monday in term time and leading the Remembrance services at school and college. The boys and girls who attend the CCF regularly all took a leap of faith into starting something completely new and come to life when in uniform.  Being part of a Corp central to that service ‘edge’ of school life has instilled a different sense of purpose and work within the CCF gives them the pride of being able to make progress solely by the dint of their own efforts. I’ve have fun recently pointing out to the Headboy that many in the CCF outrank him currently; his measured, smiling reply being of course “Not for long”.

One of my longest mantras in school has been to encourage children to move from the “What am I good at” (for which many including myself find self-congratulation hard) to “What am I good for”? Service, a central part to the Duke of Edinburgh award, where we are our own centre too, has amazing powerful ways of improving children and young people’s outcomes. Of course there is something that seems self indulgent about going off in to the developing world for a 6 month a year break from career development, but I cannot emphasise enough that young people with great vision for what is possible offer enormous strength to developing communities whose own life experiences simply don’t permit them to have the same potential vision for the future.

There’s a huge amount of noise currently coming from the Labour party about the unfair advantage that those educated in the private sector seem to have gained as a consequence of what they have been able to learn and develop whilst at school. In almost every sphere, our ‘products’ form a greater percentage of those at the top than ‘ability data’ alone might suggest. My advice to all is to tread carefully in this area, because for most of the independent schools I know including my own, nothing of what we do is based on maintaining privilege and one-upmanship. Education is so much more than just exams, levels and classroom success. The broader picture for schooling must include building resilience, emotional regulation, knowing how to cooperate and when, knowing how to fail and learn and perhaps above all, knowing how to listen and respond sensitively to the actions that might then need to follow.

The photograph below was taken in 1918, at 11am 11 November, and from the hordes seen present, the country could not have been more ready to celebrate peace. The amateur artist who has colourised this image is BabelColour, @StuartHumphryes who posted this on Twitter.

“Vast crowds in London observe the very first 2 minute silence for those killed in the Great War. The men have removed their hats out of respect for the fallen.” (I originally colourised this photo for the Evening Standard in 2019)

Now as then, it is so important that we pay our respects and recall the individual names of the fallen, not just out of a sense of duty, but for the more positive purpose of recognising that they gave their lives FOR SOMETHING, for the collective good of their children and children’s children and for all of us. In another blog posting recognising the centenary of Armistice in 2018, written by Major Graham Goodey MBE, The Royal Anglian Regiment, he concludes as follows:

“And therefore we have a duty to be worthy of the freedom we’ve been given, and if need be to defend it once more. So, ultimately, for me, Remembrance is inspiring. It inspires me to do the right thing for others, in our everyday lives, and sometimes even when you have to risk everything. And you’d be hard pushed to summarise this sentiment as effectively, eloquently and poignantly as the words inscribed on the Kohima memorial in North East India, commemorating the actions of the combined British and Indian 14th Army in the Second World War, defending India from invasion by the Japanese, which are:

When you go home, tell them of us and say, for your tomorrow, we gave our today.”

The UK government faces some pretty impossible choices currently and for the next few years beyond. Those currently in military and public service have been under a combination of pressures that stretch back many years, exacerbated of course by their full emergency deployment through the recent public health emergency. Those in power keep talking about the ‘workforce’ planning for the future they are undertaking, yet so obviously from the refugee crisis we currently are witnessing, they have not the capacity to make appropriate decisions to resolve and reframe.

There’s nothing new in this story of government trying to their best but being incapable. The returning soldiers from WW1 faced newspaper headlines proclaiming that the country was to embark upon the mass building of “Homes fit for Heroes”, only to find that the building industry was paralyzed by the lack of skilled workers, a chronic shortage of building materials and damage strikes across industry and in the docks. The resolution of the crisis commenced with the public purse finding sufficient funds for new house building whilst keeping rental costs down to affordable levels. Much more importantly, the country saw the remodelling of government at national and county council level, so that the national ‘will’ could be picked up in practice at the local level, and the creation in 1919 by the Government of a Ministry of Health to exercise powers with respect to public health in England and Wales and to promote the health of the people was a vital new tool in its armoury.

The conclusion of WW2 saw much the same need, and added the creation of universal education and a national health service into the mix. Clearly the major cities needed rebuilding following the blitz bombings suffered, but much more importantly, the creation of the suburbs allowed for even more rapid expansion of housing stock for the rapidly growing population in the fifties and sixties.

The decades after both World Wars saw economic challenges facing government of course, and ‘growth’ in any one year was never guaranteed. But that ‘promise’ that has been so firmly established in our psyche that we must not let those who serve our needs and those of our children is one worth calling the forefront of our consciousness today. Of course nurses must be able to afford to work and live, as must those more broadly working as public servants. It’s interesting to note that the ‘threshold’ above which adults can then choose what work they wish to do is quite low in relative terms – in essence once people are safe, secure, warm and well feed their further demands (for the majority) are never extortionate. Where unions have their place to play is not to demand excessively for those whose income is well above that threshold; it’s quite clear that the country cannot afford a pay hike for every one in equal measure, again one of the wider ‘Remembrance’ skills is to recall that rampant inflation destroys lives and whole communities.

At 11 am, on the 11th November 2022, Claires Court School recalled the names of those former pupils (*and teacher) of Maidenhead College, whose buildings we now occupy as a school, who lost their lives in the Great War.

“We remember Private Herbert Ashford Walford, Private Leslie Francis Walford, Rifleman Errington Brewis, ,Sergeant Percy Naylar, 2nd Lieutenant Cyril Edward Cook, Lieutenant Sidney Edwin Bailey Thomas, Acting Bombardier Victor Israel Heilbron, Corporal Robert Collier Brodie, Lieutenant Malcolm Shanks Carswell*, Temporary 2nd Lieutenant Charles William Homer, Private Ernest Peto, 2nd Lieutenant Henry Douglas Osborne.”

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:

Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning,

We will remember them.

  • Malcolm Shanks Carswell (1890-1917)

From 1891 to 1947 our SL6 6AW College Avenue site was home to a boys school, Maidenhead College. Many of its pupils went on to serve their country in the two World Wars but there is no memorial to them here. Among those known to have been killed in the Great War were Errington Brewis, Robert Brodie, Malcolm Carswell, Victor Heilbron, Charles Horner, Percy Naylar, Henry Osborne, Ernest Peto, and brothers Herbert and Leslie Walford. Most were former pupils but one, Malcolm Shanks Carswell, joined the College staff in September 1912 as the Mathematics teacher.

At the end of the Autumn Term 1914, Malcolm joined one of the “pals” battalions and shortly after was commissioned into the Royal Berkshire Regiment where he served as the Musketry Officer, training recruits in the use of their rifles. However, he retained an interest in Maidenhead College where someone had clearly fallen under what was later described as “the spell of his charming and attractive personality.” On 30 October 1915 (two Saturdays and 100 years ago) at St Mary’s Church in the centre of town, he married May Lillias Millar Inglis, younger daughter of the College’s founding Principal and owner, Andrew Millar Inglis.

His last leave with May would have been during the summer of 1917 for on 27 July 1917 he landed in France en route to 2 Battalion, Royal Berkshire Regt, then stationed near Ypres in Flanders. His arrival coincided with the start of the Battle of Passchendaele. On 17 September he was killed in action as he prepared to lead a raiding party out on patrol. His body was buried in Prowse Point Military Cemetery, about 8 miles south of Ypres, not far from Messines and Ploegsteert, “Plugstreet” to the British Tommy. At the time of his death, Malcolm was 27 and had been on the Western Front for just 52 days.

There is a postscript.  On 3 April 1918, May bore Malcolm a posthumous son, whom she also named Malcolm. According to the press announcement, the birth took place here at the College. I do not know if Malcolm junior was later a pupil at Maidenhead College but he subsequently became an officer in the Royal Artillery, served in World War 2 and died as recently as 2006.

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“The desire to reach for the stars is ambitious. The desire to reach hearts is wise.” – Maya Angelou

In our flight though the Coronavirus pandemic, many adjustments to our daily lives were essential to make, some forced upon us by government, others by common sense. Though Covid-19 is still very much with us, thanks to vaccines and great health interventions, we are now just managing the regular tweaks necessary when ‘bugs’ affect our health, and thank goodness for that. And so, I have been able to reset my toolkit to include serious ambition once more.

My good friend and former Parent, Ron Stuart remarked to me earlier this week that, whilst he was enjoying my writing, I might have been missing the opportunity ‘to extol the academic’. I’ve thought about the point of that conversation, reminding me that his son was able to move into the acceptable reach of academic success because of our efforts at school here, something that perhaps for which we have the strongest reputation. That’s certainly why I am delighted my grandson has now started in Reception. and what drives me through my daily work amongst the secondary and sixth form students in my realm.

To me, and I am really interested in what children like to do, what they are good at and what their ambitions might be are really important, and feature in most conversations. Whilst children might not always share with their parents such thoughts, it’s noticeable through chats in the yard that children do have aspirations, that they know the difference between trivial and important, and they understand that the clarity of positive expectations assists in that process.

In the refabricating of our main teaching wing at Senior Boys, I’ve included a significant number of motivational quotes from former pupils, and as with the other #wordsonthewall, they are having a really positive influence on the mood in school. My snapshot of one of the corridors below shows what that looks like:

Of course, there’s been a little vanity in my choosing of former students to provide the quotes, as opposed to those of international fame. That was a deliberate action of mine during #lockdown, when we were all trapped in tiny capsules and ambitions to travel at least were abruptly curtailed. By asking men and women to reach into our community and exude some confidence about the way ahead, it helped bring our young community together during that time of crisis.

Inside one of the English rooms, we’ve created a Maya Angelou wall, one of the most significant writers of our modern era, if not of all time. Her first autobiographical novel, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”, is an extraordinary read, as she makes clear “I write about being a Black American woman, however, I am always talking about what it’s like to be a human being. This is how we are, what makes us laugh, and this is how we fall and how we somehow, amazingly, stand up again.”

Whether for boys and girls, whether junior or senior, whether GCSE or A level, our students are enjoying unheralded academic success, and that’s almost always part of the cunning plan. We’ve seen enough of vaulting ambition in recent weeks to know that arrogance may pay off to reach the top, but at what expense and to whom? Angelou reminds us through her writing and of course through the specific quote I have chosen, that we need to remember to have 2 ambitions. The first is ‘to get good at something’, and once good, stretch further to become accomplished and then an expert. I’ve learned that every days a school day, and that, given the distance to the stars is in fact infinite, you’ll actually never get there, but don’t give up; others will and if only be distance travelled, you’ll become an expert!

The other ambition, just as important is ‘to get good for‘, because for many of the enterprises with which we will engage, it’s commitment and collaboration that are truly needed. I’ve just watched a large group of students assemble for their trip to Köln, in order to practice their ‘speaking & listening’ and learn more about the culture and people of Germany. It’s far to say that in terms of academic success, direct teaching in the classroom is surely the best method, but in reality through travel to the land of the target language we are asking the learners to take the country and peoples to their hearts, not just their heads. And this is true of almost all learning activities – the aim is not just to be functional, to provide the academic ‘hand-grip’ that turns the ‘levers of opportunity’, but to provide a sense of ownership of the ‘Why’, to be able to tackle, handle and resolve the big questions they’ll face in their futures.

I’ll close with another 2 Maya Angelou quotes, which I have paired together.

“My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.” Amen to that!

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From East to West Coast – a journey made at Claires Court celebrated by short story board.

Charlie Ingham Clark, formerly History lead and Rowing coach at Senior boys has taken time out of his career to cycle across the United States, fulfilling an ambition he has nurtured for many years. Whilst at CC. Charlie made many firm friends and inspired a generation of students to love both the academic and the physical.

Whilst with us, Charlie was clearly inspired by the work of our independent counselling service, Number 22, and by the contact he has had with our Ukrainian refugees to give a financial purpose to his cycling trek across the US.

As a consequence, he has been sending us a digital postcard to map his journey, and …

the best news of all is that he made it safely across the continent to arrive at the Pacific Ocean this Tuesday. At the bottom of this blog will appear a final ‘vlog’ I have asked him to provide to say ‘Hi and thanks for your support’!

The photo below shows Man & Bike ready for the challenge, photo taken by his father who accompanied him for the first days of his marathon journey, starting on 20/08/2022.

Charlie’s postcard from Charleston had this to say:

“Hello All,

I hope you are all well. Thank you for all your support so far on this challenge. I set off looking over the Atlantic Ocean at Sullivan Island near Charleston, South Carolina on the 20th August after two days of preparation and admin. The first few days were beautifully flat with long straight roads. I also had my father for company who was driving and meeting me at various locations on route that was great fun. 

Since my fathers return to the UK, Georgia has been rolling hills for the last 150 miles and this is set to continue for at least the next few days while staying in some very quiet American towns.  

You can follow me along on this link to Polar steps:

https://www.polarsteps.com/CharlieInghamClark/5557510-charlies-cycling-challenge?s=8C491A31-9677-4489-8198-A3E6A465A6E8

I also have a just giving page: https://www.justgiving.com/team/charliescyclingchallenge/

I’m raising funds for two incredible charities. ‘Number 22’ and ‘Ukraine Charity.’ Please do check them out on the just giving link above. I have a target of £4000 (£1 for every kilometre cycled). You can also follow on Instagram @charlies_cycling_challenge. If you know anyone along in the south of the USA please do let me know. Company and support is always welcome. Please do forward this email on to anyone interested or send me their email  

Thank you again for all your support. 

Charlie Ingham Clark 

Hello All,


I hope you are all well. Thank you for all your support so far on this challenge. I set off looking over the Atlantic Ocean at Sullivan Island near Charleston, South Carolina on the 20th August after two days of preparation and admin.

I am currently in LaGrange, Georgia and have cycled 360miles (579km). 
The first few days were beautifully flat with long straight roads. I also had my father for company who was driving and meeting me at various locations on route that was great fun. 

Since my fathers return to the UK, Georgia has been rolling hills for the last 150miles and this is set to continue for at least the next few days while staying in some very quiet American towns. 
​The landscape has drastically changed as entered Mississippi with open farm land. 
Made it Half Way(ish) across the USA. 🇺🇸Been cycling across Texas for just over a week now and the landscape has completely changed. Open empty land for as far as you can see. Currently in Abilene as had a few issues regarding the bike this week so had to take some time off to get it fixed. Fingers crossed it is all done and can now move a bit closer to New Mexico. Total Cycled: 2308km

His big postcard from New Mexico signalled progress was really good!

“Hi All,

Been on the road over 5 weeks now. Cycled across Texas and now in a town called Soccoro, New Mexico. Been getting up very early to start moving before the heat of the day. It can push up to 37c in the afternoons. New Mexico is proving to be incredible beautiful. With mountains, desserts and fields. The gaps between settlements is getting larger and larger too(Today it was 103km). 

Went close to were the Americans tested their first Atomic Bomb today. Spoke to a gentlemen who told me that they still test there for various weapons and the military drive them out of the area. 

Currently raised £1896 for charity and cycled over 3000km. Thank you to all of you who have donated so far. If you wish to donate please do so from the Just giving page:

https://www.justgiving.com/team/charliescyclingchallenge/

Thank you for all your support. Charlie 

Made it to Phoenix, Arizona. Been cycling almost 7 weeks and now deep in the desert. 
Had a few days in the Mountains that was pleasantly cool but had massive climbs stretching for miles. Arizona is just as beautiful as New Mexico and so stopping a lot to take photos. 
Into California and 150ish miles to the Pacific coast. Right in the desert now, with early morning cycling before the sun gets too high.

After 4386km I have cycled from Charleston South Carolina on the Atlantic coast to San Diego on the Pacific. Here the cycle element of the Challenge ends. 

Proof Charlie made the sea…
Downtown, it’s clear Charlie is proud to have completed the physical aspects of his challenge

To ensure Charlie meets his ambition to match every kilometre cycled by £1 raised, I copy below his links to the 2 major charities his fundraising seeks to support. Both are clearly close to the Claires Court Families’ heart, ‘Number 22′ and ‘Ukraine Charity‘.

In practice, Charlie has made it easy for us to donate to his chosen 2 charities via his Just giving page:

https://www.justgiving.com/team/charliescyclingchallenge/

“We are a registered charity providing free and confidential counselling to adults and young people in Windsor, Maidenhead and Slough, supporting those in distress where clients can feel valued and heard.

Number 22 provides counselling, advocacy and independent visiting services to the community, free at the point of use.”

“Ukraine Charity was established in 2007 in London in order to raise funds for various charitable causes in Ukraine. Our primary focus has been on helping orphans and underprivileged children and young adults in Ukraine. However, at the beginning of 2022 we have focused our efforts on providing much needed humanitarian relief.”

Proof of Charlie’s completion of his route can be found by clicking on the Polar Links link for his route, which also picks up some more photos along the way. https://www.polarsteps.com/CharlieInghamClark/5557510-charlies-cycling-challenge?s=8C491A31-9677-4489-8198-A3E6A465A6E8

This individual cause captures what the school would wish; if you feel moved to, please do give it up for Charlie’s Cycling Challenge.

Charlie’s Vlog to Claires Court can be found here:

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Local AND Global – navigating the dimensions of learning.

Now the new academic year is well under way, the termly/annual cycle of quality assurance activities is underway, from parent/teacher evenings and forward facing Open Day events to work scrutiny, lesson observations and work scrutiny. I chose Boys Year 10 Maths lessons to visit earlier this week, and found ‘SURDS’ being taught with top set. To save you quickly reaching for Google to find out what a surd is, the definition is “A surd is an expression that includes a square root, cube root or other root symbol.” There, that’s put you right hasn’t it!

Here’s Wilding’s brief explanation, involving a bit of history. Whatever you do as an engineer, you need to have accurate numbers, and if the number isn’t actually capable of resolving into a finite number, such as Pi (π) – back in Babylonian time, 1700 or so years before Archimedes (c. 287 – c. 212 BC) they made use of Pi and geometry to sort their land sales and estate boundaries. The Babylonian tablet below (ca. 1900–1680 BC) indicates a value of 3.125, good for even these days.

Trouble is of course that plenty of numbers like Pi actually don’t resolve as a decimal, going on for ever. You may remember Pi=22/7; please carry out the maths and you’ll see what I mean. Numbers that complete are called REAL numbers, and those that don’t are called IRRATIONAL numbers. π is an irrational number, which has no end however many decimal points you get to.

For a huge number of engineering operations, you don’t not just need π, but you also need to know what the Square Root of a number is, for calculations to find the radius of a circle when you know its area and circumference, r = √(A / π). Early in the days of learning about √, we find out that /4=2. √9 is 3, √16 is 4 and so forth. But for example, when you try to work out what is the /7 is, i.e. what number multiplied by itself = 7, then you fin that you get an answer that never comes to an end or to a predictable repeating pattern. For engineers then, rather then know that they are dealing with 2.64575131106…, it’s so much easier for them to know they have /7 as the value – then if they are taking about mm, the above accuracy to 2 decimal places would be enough, whereas if they were talking about 7km, they might need to use many more places to ensure the accuracy didn’t rob someone of land that was theirs, or dare a say leave some engineering miracle like the Forth Bridge a few metres adrift of the accuracy needed (and metal to span!). Numbers as √2, √3. √5. √7 and √11 all have irrational numbers as answers – this kind of √ answers is known as a SURD (remember by thinking that’s abSURD). There are six different types of surds, namely: Simple surds, Pure Surds, Similar Surds, Mixed Surds, Compound Surds, and Binomial Surd. To conclude, take something incredibly complex, irrational and never ending or deal with /number, and I know why engineers need surds – elegantly expressing what the answer is – under the square root sign √.

The SURDS above are just one example of many types of learning that have spanned the globe and the centuries, and we all know to the present day that there remains so much more about the world that we don’t know than we will ever begin to learn. It’s incredibly important then that learning in schools carries this GLOBAL dimension, and not just to span the tangible, such as Maths, but also the theoretical such as religious beliefs and customs and of course the evidence and experience that comes from Geography and History, such as the effects of Global Warming (definitely a thing, Mr Trump!) and ‘never appease a dictator’.

The trouble with Globalism, even dare I say Nationalism, is that is that it chooses by its very approach to ignore the local, with all the dangers that then ensue, that all that is local becomes devalued and ignored. We’ve seen it in the modern political failure of national governments not to ensure all parts of a country are invested in, and in the race for cost and convenience over the rights and wrongs of employment and environment. Schools such as mine that have taken the trouble to work locally on their engagement with the locality in which they are seated find incredible, unbelievable items on their doorstep. You only have to see the utter fascination of an A level group undertaking observation work around a pond (thanks Woolley Firs field centre) to see the miracle of real learning happening.

And therein has lain the problem of overweening, nanny statesmen, who might fear for example that specialist English teachers might be ignoring their favourite male victorian authors, but in reality as a consequence have forced an inappropriate and insufficiently diverse set of authors on children, in turn perhaps stunted truly their emotional development and a love of literature. Whilst our sector can choose to be different, it is perhaps no surprise now to note that for the country as a whole, English A level has dropped out of the top 10 subjects list. How could you reverse the trend? Why not start with a bit of John O’Farrell’s ‘Things can only get worse’ to cheer the mood!

What getting onto the localism agenda means of course is finding every possible reason to study what’s local, in part because perhaps it has not been sanitised. As a school, we’ve a fabulous relationship with the Stanley Spencer gallery in Cookham, and the opportunity to see his paintings as well as visit the ‘set’ where he painted so many of his works (and of course where he is buried) gives real presence to learning of his work. I’ve written plenty of times about the work we have created with the National Trust at Cliveden, and as we embrace more the language, literature, history and culture of immediate surrounds, the tangible growth in knowledge actually permits the learners (children and adults) to become even more creative about the comparisons they can then draw with the other evidence arising from across the globe.

And of course, for fear of being branded nany statesmen, Mrs Truss and her new government seems to be avoiding lecturing to us about the cost of energy and how to reduce it. The one thing politicians can be sure of is they could mobilise the eco-army they need to keep energy consumption down this winter. To every family home each day we send home a climate warrior wishing to make a difference. They absolutely get the need to change attitudes about global warming and climate change, and really they should be mobilised to turn the heating down a notch or 5. You’ve only got to look at the fun boys and girls are able to have at school each day, refusing to wear anything warmer than their minum school uniform to know they can ‘do’ colder climes. There might still be a bit of a way to go with getting 10 set 1 to navigate the heinz variety of surds they see in the classroom, but at a fell swoop they’d certainly help get UK’s gas bill down a couple of notches – and that requires local action in every home!

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Rt Hon Theresa May and her visit to Claires Court

We were delighted to welcome Maidenhead MP, and former Prime Minister, Theresa May on Friday 23 September where she met some of the 15 Ukrainian students currently enrolled at the school.  

Claires Court was approached at the start of the Ukrainian crisis by former staff and current parents, each with a personal connection with Ukraine.  They were collectively concerned that a school locally needed to be willing and able to take a large cohort of children all fleeing Ukraine, and from their connections with the school, felt that Claires Court would be well positioned to do so.  

Community is the absolute heart of who we are at Claires Court and we were determined to do our level best to help those students who had experienced such awful circumstances at home. Providing their education is only a small step in this process, welcoming their mothers so they feel included and welcomed has been important too. We seem to have provided them, and for many of their fathers back in Ukraine, with the comfort of normality and importantly, the stability of routine and friendship in school.

James Wilding Academic Principal

Mrs May was invited as MP for Maidenhead to speak to the students and understand first-hand the challenges that had faced them and their individual circumstances.  Mrs May started her visit in the newly furbished nursery school where the youngest child started age 2 and continued to meet Milana (Year 2) alongside her teacher and dedicated teaching assistant.  

The visit was very special for the children and Mrs May was presented with heartfelt gifts.  Three A-level students, Marina, Vavara and Daniela presented Mrs May with a Cyanotype print, framed and signed by the girls who are now learning subject based English to assist with their studies.  Daniela, who is studying Photography at A-level, also presented Mrs May with a print of a photograph she took of iconic Big Ben, now showing a Prussian blue clock face.  

The students within the school are supported by Ms Balynets, a qualified teacher & Ukrainian translator employed by Claires Court who also fled Ukraine as a refugee.  Introduced by a former pupil, Ms Balynets is concentrating on teaching English to the youngest students and offering classroom subject help throughout, specifically with assistance at GCSE & A-level.  

Mrs Rogers, Head of Sixth Form said, “In addition to the class work, Ms Balynets has been of great help acting as an interpreter between students, their mothers and the school to ease the transition between home and school.  She’s really helped to explain how the school works for them, so very different from their experiences in their home country.”

Four of the senior students each took time to write a personalised letter to Mrs May outlining their experiences of the war and how this has affected them.  Mrs May read the letters from the girls when presented with them and asked them questions about their time at school.

As the photos show, Mrs May dressed to impress for her visit, wearing Ukrainian colours and sporting the UK/Ukrainian crossed flags. The photo below shows our Head of Photography, Jane Wimshurst engaging Mrs May in an A level teaching point, supported by Stephanie Rogers, our Head of Sixth Form. One of the key points of Mrs May’s visit to our central College site was to show just how the breadth of our provision has been enhanced and developed over the past 3 years, clearly providing some remarkable, ground breaking provision from Nursery to Sixth form, both for teaching, accessibility and well-being support. One of the most important reasons we were able to support the Sixth Form arrivals from Ukraine is that they have keen interest in creative, artistic and technology based subjects. Our offer in this regards of high quality digital art, photography, media and music technology kit and teaching programmes fitted their needs as well as lowering the bar in terms of language accessibility.

And finally, we must never forget the value of supportive adults, be they fellow travellers from Ukrainine or generous Host families providing a secure home locally. Mrs May was very much a celebrity in the eyes of Mrs Balnyets and children, almost as much so as Dr Sheru George, who is hosting 3 families alone, mums and their 7 children! Dr George has been extraordinarily generous in his support of our work, assisting in the funding of adult language learning support as well. Mrs Balynets is getting used to her multi-layered role here, accompanying Year 7 boys and girls to Cliveden on Tuesday this week, in which we have 3 boys and 2 girls hosted learning our ways and enjoying their first taste of secondary school.

2022 version of ‘My Lady Ferry’ carrying some of our 100 visitors for the day from Claires Court to Cliveden – we had 9 boats full in total!
Arrivals from school to the Cliveden bank courtesy of the Claires Court Outdoor Education team
Tree identification in the Cliveden woods
History discovery work in the Cliveden Memorial War cemetery
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Education enters the Carolean Era…

Highlights of the post that follows:

  • The last Carolean era saw the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660;
  • The Restoration saw a flourishing of the Arts, Theatre, Sciences and a return to personal freedoms;
  • It was also characterized by some Greats, the 1665 Plague, the 1666 Fire of London and the reintegration of Great Britain and Ireland;
  • Claires Court enters the new Carolean era, renewed with the best examination results at both GCSE and A Level achieved through public examinations this century (and ever);
  • with the largest leading cohorts of children in Years 6, 11 and 13 as well;
  • and with some pretty impressive investments visible throughout the estate, including the complete refurbishment of our Elizabethan silver jubilee teaching wing (1978) at Senior Boys, at the close of the school’s own Diamond Jubilee celebrations.

Claires Court’s history has to date been entirely encapsulated within the modern Elizabethan era; established in 1960 by my parents David and Josephine Wilding as a consequence of the post world war II economic boom enfranchising baby boomer parents to seek the educational opportunities for their male children unavailable otherwise. 

Such ambitions of course included those of the young parents, Queen Elizabeth and Philip, whose separate experiences of education either revolved around home education, or spanned continents, languages and cultures. They chose for their children’s secondary British mainstream boarding education (Charles, Andrew & Edward to Gordonstoun and Anne to Beneden), Charles’ sons going to St. George’s Windsor and Eton (William in 1995), by which time our own school had acquired Maidenhead College and opened its own Sixth Form. 

Queen Elizabeth devoted her life in this 21st century to restore  the country’s trust in her monarchy, to stabilize and reinforce the value of Commonwealth to other countries and above all (my wisdom of hindsight here) to keep a sense of ‘Greatness’ about our country in the eyes of the rest of the World to the extent that President Macron of France was able to say in his eulogy on her death “To you, she was your Queen, to us she was The Queen’. Whilst the 2012 Olympics may come to symbolize the zenith of our country’s recent influence worldwide, I have no doubt that the 2022 celebrations of her own Platinum jubilee were a fitting culmination to her reign and tribute to her benign influence over our remarkable and unique democracy.

So it seems Claires Court has left the Second Elizabethan era on a high, and faces its future (with the rest of the UK) under the incoming Charles III and Queen Consort Camilla with both trepidation and expectation. None of us know how we are going to pay our way in the wake of the energy crisis, nor escape the most serious of threats arising from the war in Ukraine. A new Prime Minister, Liz Truss and government are exercising their first days of government having laid the Queen to rest, and it seems pretty evident that she is using a similar approach to that of the post war prime ministers to cause growth and expansion. Fortunately, Ukraine has the support of a host of nations and not just ours, so the threat to Russia may just cause its own population to make a change at the top to avert world war and worse.

During his lifetime, Charles has developed a host of themes that schools have adopted and embraced; his father’s Duke of Edinburgh award has never been more important for our young people – I quote from the DofE website “In 2020, young people stepped up and played an integral role in supporting communities across the UK to respond to the coronavirus pandemic. A remarkable 330,000 young people continued with their DofE activities – a huge force for good, dedicating 1.8 million hours of volunteering, equating to an investment of almost £8.5 million, to local communities at a time when they needed it most. DofE participants sewed PPE at their kitchen tables, delivered food parcels to those who needed them and put on virtual concerts for care homes. As the UK recovers, the benefits that the DofE offers are more important than ever. Our new strategy puts the DofE at the heart of the national effort to back young people through the challenging years ahead.

Last weekend, 42 of our current Year 9 completed their Bronze expedition, with a further 78 in Year 10/11 are now completing their other sections, which given all the other calls upon the time of our teenage boys and girls shows a really significant commitment to service above self. King Charles’ interest in ecology and sustainability is also to the front of both academic teaching lessons and a major priority if we are to ‘save the planet’. And of course, the generations are clicking over, and his grandchildren and mine both starting school this month locally in RBWM, as day children with parents joining their school community and planning to be active participants in their children’s lived educational experience.

As my key headlines for this post make clear, over the past 10 weeks, our maintenance staff and builders could not have been busier. The official reopening of our ‘Jubilee wing’ at Senior boys is to be scheduled for a formal reopening event week beginning Monday 17 October, and of course wherever within has been full and bursting with life since we returned from our summer holidays on 7/8 September. Perhaps even more importantly, we have invited The Rt Hon Theresa May MP to visit us on Friday 23 September to meet with our invited Ukrainian children here at school, to bear witness to the sustained investment into both nursery and school facilities and to follow up her interest from 12 months ago in our ongoing diverse and innovative activities for our children.

Dear Reader, do please continue to be our unseen ambassadors for the work we do and for the growth we promote in all of our community, whether they be children, parents & guardians or our partners here in RBWM. If ever there is a downside to reporting the best, it is the inevitable fall (if only in volume numbers) that will follow further down the road. Covid-19 was an extraordinary catalyst for change in our society, with working and shopping from home becoming a norm. Here at school, we have lengthened our breaks to ensure that childhood is protected, yet embraced technology to conjoin home and school learning environments and this month to live stream our 1st XV Rugby matches on Wednesday afternoon using AI cameras to enable our supporters to spectate.

Over the coming weeks, we have open days and opportunities for visitors to learn more about Claires Court and what we do – please spread the word, because we do want to see real people to show them what we are about. 

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A Brave New World, Mrs Truss & Mr Malthouse?

Great Britain has a new Prime Minister at the same time as schools, colleges and Universities come back into session. Liz Truss has a monumental in-tray, not least the energy market crisis, conflict in Ukraine, tensions with the EU, dis-union within and the complexity of migrant need to meet our employment needs and illegal migration overwhelming our services. I don’t envy her, or indeed any world leader currently, beset by the clear set of problems with no obvious financial solution either except to kick the can down the road once more to future generations. Whilst writing this piece, I see that Kit Malthouse, MP for North West Hampshire has been appointed our new Secretary of State for Education, so I include them both for consideration of the points I make below.

I am only going to write about Education in this blog, but UK PLC should be very clear that it has a really effective early years and compulsory education provision which is frankly the envy of the world. It’s clear from the ‘levelling up’ narrative that we still have more to do in ‘opening up’ of opportunities for those areas of the country where deprivation and poverty continues to stifle ambition and as a consequence academic progress in school. Recognising that we have more to do needs to be tailored with the generosity to meet that need where it is most acute; in schools we are acutely aware that the funding of special education needs requires exactly this, coupled with a reassessment of actually how best should such needs be met. The advocacy of Individual budgets for Education, Health and Care plans has badly atomised the funding available, as a consequence local authorities being ‘spent out’ even before the start of a financial year. So first steps for Mr Malthouse is to accelerate the review of SEN to ensure we have the budget short term and the approach long term to bring inclusion in mainstream a reality for those for whom that solution is appropriate, and the support of alternative providers to meet the needs of those unable to be in school.

We have had 2 reports published this summer looking at the state of playnin our schools, one by the Times Newspaper’s Education Commision, the other by the Tony Blair Institute for Global change both of which summarise the key developments needed and come to broadly the same conclusions: the reversal in recent years at Sixth Form level to a narrow, knowledge led curriculum is not providing us with the broader set of skills and enthusiasms we need for the future, whether that be for higher education or employment. The Labour government took us closer to such proposals with their development of Curriculum 2000, though that only focussed on Sixth Form studies and kept the huge apparatus of GCSE and examinations in place at 16+. Both reports summarise the need to reduce substantially the ‘testing’ nature of 16+ exams, in part because they cause such a huge additional cost to the country in terms of lost teaching time, resources and facilities and because they are so divisive in terms of individual and school community well-being. What Mr Malthouse can plan with DfE is how to take these education metrics out of the political maelstrom, forging a 10 year or longer plan unting schools, colleges, employers and universities with a common purpose to meet the country’s widest employment needs for skills and qualifications.

It remains a national outrage that we refuse to provision sufficient training places for medics; choosing to rob third world countries of well qualified doctors and nurses they can ill afford to lose whilst refusing to provide sufficient places for home qualified students is the greatest hypocrisy. Of course it is not just about providing training places for students but retaining those really experienced doctors and surgeons to teach in hospitals with more than just A&E and Covid underway. Here curiously education has something to teach medicine, as we manage to keep many staff employed well into their 7th and 8th decade, partly because of course our pension pots don’t grow large enough to fall foul on the lifetime allowance (for most people £1,073,100). Every year, Claires Court graduates circa 50% of its GCSE scientists good enough in ‘old money’ to move to Maths and Science A levels and potentially into Medicine beyond – and we like most other schools would love to see Medicine degrees return to where they used to be last century, relatively available for most good candidates.

What we must do is plan to evolve over time. The efficiency of the UK system of University degrees is celebrated around the world, recognisably providing great content over a 3/4 year period coupled with time to develop the other skills and opportunities that permit young graduates to accelerate away when employment aged 21/22 beckons. I have appreciated Martin Lewis (Moneysupermarket guru) straight talking to government on energy costs this summer; previously he has spoken wisely about University Finance and we do have a best of all worlds scenario for students here in England, given the relative poverty of the national piggy bank – see here. Evolving over time must also include bringing more undergraduate courses into the undergraduate employment apprenticeship field. Again my school has really good experience of training teachers ‘on the job’, circ a 6 a year. With residential costs for Universities competing with the wider housing shortage, many students can enjoy a full Uni experience by staying local to home, and we are certainly very fortunate to have many leading universities within easy reach on our public transport network.

And finally, my own cautionary tale… last week in the early hours of Wednesday morning, I suffered a fit and needed to be hospitalised to find out why. Despite the ambulance, I was a walk in, walk out casualty, and between 05:30 and 17:30 I could not have been looked after better. Every test under the sun, scanners, cardiac and bloods later, and I am, it appears, as right as rain. The quality of care was extraordinary, for me and all, and so whilst I can read the headlines about ‘broken NHS’, my reality is very different in experience. Of course we can continue to point, finger, blame, but in my view, we won’t make progress as a country if we keep up as our main strategy the ‘blame game’ rather than use a ‘solutions based’ approach instead. I am having to make some running repairs to my working life straight away; I can’t drive for a while for example, and I am certainly keeping a very lively watching brief on diet and lifestyle. Very boringly, there’s not much to report (that’s a good thing), and actually the road to my full recovery is as it is for anyone else, one step at a time.

So all hail our new PM and EdSec, and good luck to you both. Thank you for returning Mr Gove to the back benches, his claim to fame being his famous distrust of experts. You have already highlighted that your approach is solve the problems in front of you as you see them, so do please have a good read of the 2 reports I have highlighted above. The many contributions made to both reports have been by experts in the field of education, and their preferred solution for skills development maps onto the work Claires Court has developed over the past 15 years very nicely indeed, with values even more clearly aligned, placing Integrity and Character above all. I see that your cabinet is as diverse as it could be, pulling talent from across all – perhaps you could look to adopting our school’s motto, “Ut Omnes Unum Sint”, ‘That all may be one’; at this time of national crisis, a sense of bringing the nation together is much needed indeed.

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Going to University – the No-Win, No-Fee system

Over the past few months, what with the tightening of belts because of inflation, and the growing skills gap that cannot be filled from the labour market, there has been a growing call for our 18 year olds leaving school to consider going to work as opposed to going on to study. Indeed the student loans landscape is to change – spoiler alert, but that doesn’t change the core essence of what follows… read on.

For mature adults considering career changes, it’s clearly better to look for salaried conversion courses than it is unpaid university, because the maintenance loans available are not that generous – you can read off the details here – https://www.gov.uk/student-finance/new-fulltime-students/

But for every young person (and parent) considering post 18+ study at University, this Martin Lewis talk on Student Loans Decoded is a ‘much watch video’. In it, he explains completely that student loans are not loans for students, that University fees per se for UK students are paid by the government loans company so invisible to the student, and that the monies to be paid in due course come from a graduate tax of 9% when earning more than £25,750 per annum a year past graduation (currently (£27,295).

Martin makes it quite clear why even if the post graduation adult gains a windfall, they should not pay off the student loan company, until they have considered the 30 year life span of the account, and the possibilities the luck adult might wish to consider for their windfall. In short, the graduate debt is not a millstone, but a convenient way our society has made the extraordinary benefits of higher education available to its citizens.

Some will argue that the European system works better (though none the US system), and I would certainly agree the Scottish system is best value as tuition fees are covered by the Student Awards Agency for Scotland (SAAS), though their maintenance loans are less generous and Scots usually have to spend 4 years to graduate rather than 3. Martin does not cover this element, though Which? journalist Gareth Shaw covers it well in an article published earlier this year.

So… click on the Youtube link, crank the playback speed on the cog up to 1.5 and be thoroughly entertained – it’s a really worthwhile watch, than you

Alternatively, you can read Martin’s updated article of June 2022 here – https://www.moneysavingexpert.com/students/student-loans-tuition-fees-changes/, though it does rather send you back to the video above, which includes that essential learning scenario of Martin teaching and making sense of the mire!

Spoiler alert postscript. As the Higher Education Community post here makes clear, the changes afoot see starter payback drop to £25k from , period for payback to extend to 40 years (from 30), but rate of interest to be pegged back to RPI, not RPI plus 3%.

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