Claires Court Achievements commentary 1 December 2013

 This article written to accompany the Achievements & Results Court Circular, to be published Tuesday 7 January 2014

The Registrar is often asked by prospective parents “Why is your last Inspection document so old?”, noticing as they do its date of February 2008. The answer remains very simple – we are an independent school known to be good, with excellent pastoral care and extra-curricular provision, and in terms of many of outcomes for children, outstanding for a school of our size. This means that we don’t have to be inspected frequently, but our time is now up and when the Inspectors visit, they will see from the many and diverse achievements listed evident in this series of Court Circular publications looking back on 2012-13 that we have developed yet further our reputation for providing outstandingly for our pupils.

Throughout the development of Claires Court as an educational institution, the individual child has been at the heart of our planning. Entering the school from Nursery has no selection criteria, being automatic for those that choose us as their Junior school. This may impose a breadth of ability on us in these lower years, but it’s not one that concerns us. Our benchmarking agency is CEM centre, University of Durham, and we send them our data on pupil performance on entry into the school at Reception, and we use that data, and follow-up assessments to monitor pupil progress up through the school, all the way to A level. Published in 2008, “The first seven years at school” research report by Professor Peter Tymms and his co-workers at CEM/Durham made it quite clear that the most important years for educational progress to be made are those in the first 3 – that’s Reception, 1 & 2, though of course appropriate interventions by skilled teachers higher up the school continue to make a difference all the way through. The critical 2 main foci for attention must be Mathematics and Reading, and though developing Vocabulary is important, its contribution to the child’s future success is not so important.

What the research made crystal clear was that progress is very varied from one year to the next, fundamentally down to the critical importance of the adult working with the child at schools, namely the teacher. For children to make progress every year, the teacher has to ensure that the key interventions are made week by week, term on term. Building on that research, we have continued to provision the use of specialist staff to support the Form teacher in their role, and it is so rewarding for example to witness the real joy our children show at the learning of modern languages. Frankly, the introduction of Mandarin into the mix of French, German, Latin and Spanish in the primary phase has stepped up the process of language acquisition even more. In short, our children in the junior years are really best placed to make the most progress, given the year by year focus on the core subjects, amplified by specialist staff who support the form teacher in those interventions.  And prepare them we do, for a range of secondary destinations with the skills and interests that will nourish their development into their teenage years.

The research has another major key finding though;

“Not only does this analysis underline the importance of looking at progress year on year but it also highlights the value of taking the long view. An effective school must surely be the school which has a long term positive impact on its pupils and this may not be the same as relative attainment at the end of the last year. The analyses presented in this paper suggest that large gains in a single year of schooling are likely to have just a little impact in the long run.

It is the cumulative effect of the whole school experience which matters.”

And that’s why we have every confidence that the vast majority of our children developed in our junior schools are going to do even better with us in the Secondary and Sixth form years. Given our clear values Responsibility, Respect, Loyalty and Integrity, how could I as Academic Principal, look existing parents in the eye and say “I am sorry, your child is no longer good enough for the school?” It’s true of course that we can’t be the right school for every child, particularly those who require intense resources to support specific difficulties, be they academic or behavioural. What is the case though is just how well our Claires Court Essentials are a best fit now for the secondary phase.  As with the early years research, we know it is essential that it’s at the first three years of secondary that the most progress can be made. There are deep and profound differences between the specialist subjects the soon-to-be teenage learner encounters in years 7 and 8. And Intelligence is diverse, dynamic and distinct too, with no child being the same. Through our breadth of provision, through the children working with specialist staff on a question based curriculum, we enable Years 7,8 and 9 to develop their developed abilities still further. I am a great fan of the educationalist, Sir Ken Robinson, who repeatedly blames school for their narrow focus, and has this to say on the matter: “…how our education system is outdated and is based on a hierarchy wherein most useful subjects for a job are considered to be the most important and academic ability, which has really come to dominate our view of intelligence because the universities designed the system in their image”. Over the past three years, we have dramatically developed our curriculum to include those skills and talents we believe are needed for the future, to develop and nurture our students’ creativity. Here’s Sir Ken again: “In fact, creativity, which I define as the process of having original ideas that have value, more often than not comes about through the interaction of different disciplinary ways of seeing things.”

That’s why we attach to our curriculum so many empowering visits to museums and galleries, travel into the natural world for field trip and research, and provide specific problem-based learning opportunities for collaboration and research. This marks Claires Court out as significantly different from so many other schools, because we set out to provide that whole school experience that CEM centre research states is essential for effective education. Sir Ken also assures us that we are right, stressing: “the importance of an educational system which nurtures the gift of the human imagination and ensures that children have brighter futures and better tomorrows. Clearly, for a brighter future, education needs to appreciate the true value of human imagination and nurture it”. As one of the earliest adopters of cloud-based technology, we have given to our pupils a whole host of tools that ensure they can research, add value, modify, imagine and re-purpose solutions to problems. It is only with the arrival of these tools that genuine collaboration has been possible on a daily or even minute by minute basis. Co-workers don’t need to be in the same room to be on the same page and problem! And because the tools are universal, visible and usable on any computer platform, there are fewer excuses for not being able to participate – which kids being kids will always happen.

Claires Court as a community did not appreciate we were going to lead the way in digital literacy and computing, but we now do. In 2010, we created three things; a vision for how schools can integrate their entire productivity backbone, how teachers and pupils can access anytime, any where both the tools to be productive and the information to go with it, and developed a training programme from beginner to certified trainer in tools for the job that will serve the individual in good stead anywhere and in any language in the globe.  Now that’s some success, and I guess why Google and Samsung are happy to encourage us to this day. The video Samsung produced of our work here has been shown across the globe, and we welcome visitors to the school to explain how this success has been engineered. As 2014 beckons, we have over 450 Chromebooks, 200+ PCs and work stations, 100+ Macbooks and netbooks deployed in the school, and commence a formal trial on the additional use of Samsung tablets in January. I really don’t think it’s about the technology by the way; tools are just that. It’s about the development of proper young craftsmen who has the vision to make choices, and does so – the written form one day, a video the next, drawings and cartooning the third.

One of our students, Joe Reeve, has written us an App so that our digital space, “The Hub” can be added as an extension to the Chrome browser, making it available in one click for quick reference. That’s both neat and ingenious, and I am sure more Apps are on their way from our community of learners. There are commercial Apps out there that now rank schools, and about 5000 secondary schools in the UK, state and private. Now Apps aren’t necessarily going to take all a school’s successes into account, but our aims is to be in amongst the top 10% or so for academic success. Of course we could push our children solely down the ‘academic curriculum’ path, but for most, they haven’t come to Claires Court to be nurtured solely this way. That’s why we are also known for Art, Drama, Public Speaking and Citizenship, Sports and our work with those less fortunate.  Mr Andy Giles and Mrs Rogers run our Sixth Form of 110 or so students with great skill and passion. In his exit survey each year, Mr Giles finds that Year 13 rate their experience with us in the 90%+ satisfaction level. No, even at this level, we don’t select out our weaker pupils – they are as welcome as the most able to give of their best in their A level studies. And the telling evidence from CEM centre on our A level performance in the Summer of 2013, is that our students do far better than their abilities would predict – “It is the cumulative effect of the whole school experience which matters”.

So please don’t belittle the academic achievements you read herein. As the award of the Whitbread prize to recognise the best achievements for a GCSE pupil in an ISA school  to Gabriella Lindley shows, it was not just the A*s that counted – her all round achievements, for herself, for her school and for others in need are what counted. And for her contemporary George Monk, I commiserate – 9A* and 4 As really not quite enough this year! With so many candidates with a history of arriving at Claires Court for their secondary education having failed their 11+ and being told they weren’t good enough – their excellent results are a formal and public endorsement that what we do and the way we do it works.

So dear Reader, enjoy the edition of our Achievements brochure when it is published (any time soon), and read it with the following in mind. If we deselected our weaker pupils, then we could publish better results. But they wouldn’t be better for those deselected. We haven’t become the school we are disrespecting those who learn differently. We have supported some amazingly gifted and talented children this year, whose successes are writ large across our various publications. As our BAFTA winning former pupil, Rupert Houseman pointed out to us at Speech Day – “I came to Claires Court age 11, shortly after learning I was severely dyslexic, and Claires Court taught me how to read and write. It makes me really laugh out loud that I make a living reading and write and get paid for it.  I could never have dreamed in my wildest dreams I would get paid to read out loud.  And that’s thanks to you guys here, I could never have done that without you, and that’s why I am here today!”.

James Wilding

! December 2013

About jameswilding

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