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 this 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.