You have to expect things of yourself before you can do them.

It has been an extraordinarily busy start to the new academic year, so much so that Blogging on matters educational has had to take a bit more of a back seat than I’d like. Every week at school has had major events and highlights, and include not just Speech Day and Parent Teacher Association AGMs, but a whole host of wider community involvement, most notably running the Regional Arts exhibition at Norden Farm Centre for the Arts on Tuesday 4 October. The winning artefacts have been on display in the Arts centre Gallery; the exhibition comes down next Monday, and the winners travel to the National finals, to be held in Wokefield Park later in November. Here’s a video of the exhibition that gives you some idea of the content, covering the work from pre-prep years to A level, in Fine Art, mixed media, textiles and ceramics, digital and 3 dimensions.

Art teachers from the 40+ schools in ISA London West install the exhibition by 11am on the day, adjudication is over by 3 pm and the whole lots down by 5pm – an extraordinary ‘flash mob’ approach to art display, and rewarding for the teachers themselves, as it provides valuable insights on how they and their peer group of specialists are responding in the ever changing world of art and education.

The great pity about such events is that an audience of impressionable children don’t get to see the work in its entirety. As my quote from the American Basketball player, Michael Jordan indicates, belief in one’s ability is a prime requirement of success. In Art, where so much is possible if one only knows, seeing Art is amazingly important as a stimulus to the creative juices. Visitors to Claires Court Schools will see our pupils’ Art pretty much everywhere, and that display provides a guarantee that current pupils will get ‘hung’ in the future. It must be said that the older the pupil, the bigger the ‘hanging’ so in the Sixth Form centre there are some seriously large pieces that would not find pride of place in the family living room!

And it’s not just not Art that needs to be seen. Throughout the curriculum it is vital that subjects are brought alive by being seen in context, often up close and personal. I was fortunate enough to visit Flanders with the Year 10 Historians, on their visit to the Ypres Salient, to the memorial of Tyne cot to the fallen at the battle of Passchendaele in the summer of 1917 and subsequent British deaths to the end of the war. There’s no doubt that our young students of War, male and female bear witness to the horror of that conflict, even though now separated from the events by 90 years or so.

Those that know our school well will be aware of the extraordinary range and diversity of our trips, providing every opportunity for hands-on education,. It’s quite amusing to see the faces of teaching staff supporting the Geography department when they arrive at Lulworth Cove on the Jurassic coast of Dorset, and spot for the first time the walk they and their charges are going to take up and over the limestone cliffs to Durdle Door! This year, blessed by the good weather we have all enjoyed, Year 8’s visit provided further exceptional opportunity to witness the extensive erosion that has created this world renowned spectacle, breath the spray and witness the sheer scale of this natural wonder.

There has been a national debate about whether the Health & Safety executive’s remit in recent years has discouraged school trips; this summer their guidance was reduced from 150 pages to 8, and the hope is that schools will rebuild their long list visit and outings programme. Suffice it to say, we haven’t ever cut ours, because it has remained essential in an all ability range school to provide the learning environment that works for all, getting hands-on and made-up to fit the experience to the educational need.  That’s why last Saturday, a whole bunch of us were out practicing our expedition skills in the Eastern Thames Valley; you don’t have to go far outside of Maidenhead to glory in the beauty of our countryside, and on occasion the impenetrability of its footpaths!

A fellow Berkshire Headteacher, Anthony Seldon at Wellington College, went live this week with his frustration of government placing the focus on school performance on grade related league tables. And he’s right – he and I have both been fighting extraordinarily poor exam board marking in some subject areas – most of our Girls GCSE Business studies results have just been raised a grade because of inept external marking of coursework for example. The extraordinary scale of school examination run by government that impacts upon our schools is damaging the very educational experience we seek to provide, and UK schools are now in full consultation about how the new GCSE programme should look from next September. All I can say is that we must give time for our pupils to learn from reality and make some mistakes, from which they can learn and be ultimately more successful in the future.

About jameswilding

Academic Principal Claires Court Schools Long term member & advocate of the Independent Schools Association
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