Keep calm and stay positive; good things will happen

Well, according to Jules Verne, if you are Phineas Fogg, you can go around the world in 80 days.

Since Monday 8 March (the day schools reopened in person), I am very delighted to confirm that the furthest I have travelled is to Twyford to the West, Slough to the East, Little Marlow to the North and… Easthampstead Park crematorium to the South, some 18 miles away, and only that was essential so we could pay our last respects for my father-in-law, John Weston Austin, who passed away.

So in the great scale of universal things, I’ve gone nowhere, nada, nothing. End of.

Alternatively, the entire multi-layered dimensions of everything-and-then-some has as a consequence gone around the Universe and landed on my door step. Crumbs, what with Tim Berners Lee’s toy and a modern Chromebook, there really are no limits on range of travel or complexity of activity and engagement.

Using far too much hyperbole James. Moi? Hyperbole? Mais non!

March 8 – Day 1 – Boys get off the morning bus in (after 7 weeks of successful Food Tech), “Sir when does the Food Tech studio open?” So that’s challenge in itself. Expect September ’21 or January ’22, but we’ll get there!

March 15 – News gets around the school that former pupils have been causing ‘posh graffiti’ everywhere. What’s not to like?

In the photo above, taken earlier this May with Headboy Charlie and Deputy Matthew, Dawa Balogun stands proudly alongside his #gottabeageniusgottabeextraodinary catchphrase, by which he explained how it was he managed to get to meet the Prime Minister , Bori Johnson back in October.

March 23 March saw the first National Day of Reflection which drew us all together on the anniversary of our first #lockdown, providing the opportunity for all to support those who are grieving and what an upswell of support there was, not maudling but eal and heartfelt.

That day of reflection was replaced by many days of concern, for the cargo ship Ever Given ended up blocking the Suez canal bringing world trade to a halt it was feared. In reality, human ingenuity and much tugboat muscle too assisted in refloating and moving on that trade.

Dame Rachel de Souza started dared to ask our children the questions she felt we might have been ignoring for the past 12 months, there being something more immediate to worry about. I worked hard to ensure all of our children saw the invite to the Big Ask, and with any luck we smashed her expectations for children’s involvement. Have a listen yourself and see what you think?

I chose to sell the idea to the secondary pupils by coinciding The Big Ask with Arundhati Roy’s famous quotation on the ‘voiceless’:

With the time to read, research and reflect, I’ve felt I’ve been as much on a Desert Island as Radio 4’s guests, though instead of being alone, I’m check by jowl with everyone else in the same position. And in my stasis, it’s been a little easier to tune in to the growing troubles in the wellbeing of those, both young and adult with whom I work. Being born into education and educated in my own school that I now lead, I am so lucky not to feel trapped or unfulfilled. So many other have not been caught in their safe place, rather more seemingly caught like a daddy longlegs in the molten wax of a guttering candle, in the spotlight, transfixed by their forced inertia and in danger of burning bright.

In many ways, because we’ve all been transfixed, the value of friendship and the need to show strength and courage for others has had no option other than to overflow. I get a sense of what the blitz spirit must have been like, being there for everyone because we had no choice, and because kindness and strength has become habitual to share, as we wrap up Year 11’s time with us and watch the years below career down the staircases do clear their lockers at the end of this challenging half of term, the smiles are indeed everywhere. I’ll close if I may, with Olympian and world champion Mark Richardson’s message used last autumn and repeated today with year 11 – #Radiatethesunshine, collaboration is the key.

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Leadership & Followership – the joys of change management!

We all know the well know aphorism “Do as I say, not as I do” which harks back throughout medieval times and is reported as going back at least to the New Testament when in St Matthew’s gospel we read (23:2) Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to His disciples:  “The scribes and Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So practice and observe everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.… I suppose really what I am saying goes back even further, and that hypocrisy probably evolved to coincide with the dawn of Homo Sapiens.

Those that have got to know me over the decades I have been in leadership know that I speak about the need for Leadership to evolve, and not just because of the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats stuff that underpin the ‘SWOT’ analysis. I suspect I commenced in the 1980s in the style of Henry V, these days rather unkindly called Saviour leadership perhaps. All well and good of course, but once Henry contracted dysentery on the battlefield in 1422, he died at the very young age of 35, and his leadership died with him. The ‘Industrial Society’ held training courses for new leaders in 1983, and I remember having my socks blown off by the ideas around developing other people around you so that, when push comes to shove, lots more people are prepped and ready to jump into the breach.

I’ve reinvented myself many times (1986-8 forced into academic leadership because of the arrival of new GCSE exams), in 1993 to become a ‘Diamond educator’ because of the acquisition of the College site and the 140+ girls therein, in the late ’90s & Noughties by the introduction of our Values Education approach, then the arrival of Cloud learning and the Claires Court Essentials and finally with the current Question based curriculum with Simon Sinek’s proposition at the fore – “Ask Why first!”

The arrival of Derek Sivers ideas on How to start a movement has set me thinking. For the moment, I’ll leave my thoughts silent – and do let Derek take you through his thinking on how to start a movement.

As Claires Court eases itself gently away from #lockdown and #covidrestrictions, we have the opportunity to genuinely spring-clean and throw out clutter that as a school we no longer should be making use of. The challenge will be to decide how to identify what’s clutter, and to ensure that what take its place is leaner, simpler and better articulated than hitherto. And because there is so much to do, I can’t have people relying on me to do that all on my own.

As I say, I am pondering what will my dance steps look like on the hillside? Who will I have prepped to join the fray and be early adopters too? Whilst I feel sure that many like the idea of an academic and pastoral spring clean, many are adverse to chucking stuff out, because what happens when suddenly they find they need ‘it’ once more. I should know for living in an Edwardian house, there is no chance of finding replacement bits and pieces for so much in my house, that I save, nurture and rebuild whenever I can. I’ve become a huge fan of the current BBC series, Repairs Workshop, and I’ve been privileged to be acknowledged by Laithwaites who carried the story of Oompah and his grandson’s toy lorry. Which rather permits me to suggest I still have a strong affection for Architect-builder Leadership, and often put my beliefs into practice!

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“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning.”

Hope is not wishful thinking, but a way of expressing positively that secure, planned efforts, with positive expectations have been prepared, with confidence and great care.

Over the past 12 months, it has become obvious to us all that the old certainties can no longer be relied upon. Almost everything marked on the calendar as a ‘fixture’ isn’t any more; the physics, chemistry and biology of flying haven’t changed, but who knew that air travel could be forbidden for this long? Likewise, the grand tours of the rock stars, the festivals such as Glastonbury and the home and away matches of our favourite sports team have all ceased completely.

In the absence of certainty, I have had to become newly acquainted with the notion of hope, that being far from the fluffy ‘bon bouche’ of wishful thinking, but part of a much more powerful professional methodology that sets out to ‘win’. After all, we’ve been given some great examples by our virologists over the pandemic have we not, where following their noses and working with innovative and utterly new mechanisms, their hopes for the production of effective vaccines for us all have been fully justified. Following the science, the behaviourists have argued for #lockdown to break the irresistible rise of Covid-19 infections and the catastrophic outcomes to our NHS and CAre homes as a consequence. I have kept myself suitably socially distanced throughout, sung Happy Birthday or Popeye the Sailor Man whilst hand cleansing, worn me mask and coughed into my sleeve, poked my tonsils/nostrils for Lateral Flow testing and stayed resolutely not infectious as a consequence, as have millions of other Britons.

The meticulous plans crafted for ‘at home’ teaching and learning were laid with perhaps even greater care, requiring the willing cooperation and coordination of teachers and learners. Again, all of this work was not carried out in the knowledge that it would definitely succeed (would Sir’s wifi last the distance for example), but as a best laid plans of mice and men, these plans were prepared hopefully. Whilst I appreciate those plans could never replace ‘real school’, pupil and parental feedback was incredibly supportive, and rather like a vaccination grew in strength and robustness over time. Teachers and students worked out a new ‘patois’ for on-line learning, showing each both respect and deference. It was fascinating to see teachers learn how to manage their ‘faceless’ charges at secondary level, by asking when necessary for ‘cameras on’ as needs must.

And we have turned our development eyes towards making more of the River Thames above Boulters Lock here in Maidenhead; known as the Stretch of the Gods, the photo below showing off one of our quads in all their glory.

To that end, we chose to secure a building, the former Navigation office of Thames Conservancy, as well as land further onto the Island where our boats of various shapes and sizes could be stored. Both required the securing of leases and the gaining of planning and parks’ permission, not easily organised at the best of times, let alone when everything has been put into suspended animation. Well Hope might Spring Eternal as the saying goes, but it’s taking a huge amount of shoe leather, (almost) endless email to and fros between the Environment Agency and myself, but… “Tarantara” blows the trumpet, because we are now there! Thanks to the continuing support of the PTA foundation who assisted in funding the internal development of the building, we now have a working office, store and changing rooms, with toilets and emergency showering. We look to open up the venue in May, once we have our students looking more like successful ducks navigating their water safely at Taplow, before we set them loose amongst the Gods!

And as everyone knows, our plans for a new campus for the school were dealt a major setback when Planning Inspector Jo Gilbert dismissed our appeal in December. One could say “Our hopes were dashed”, but in like manner, in carefully reading through her report, it was clear that Mrs Gilbert found so much that was in favour of our application, central of course being her judgement that “Great weight is attached to the identified need for the proposal within Appeal A. Significant weight is attached to economic and employment opportunities
offered through Appeal A” these both being references to the school. Counter to that strong support was the need the school had to demonstrate that the development of the school (in application A) and the hockey pitches, pavilion and paraphernalia (in application B) outweighed the presence of both applications in the Green Belt, and in the end we seem to have fallen just short.

In the meantime, the designation of Education has been given further strength in planning law, and the need for grass playing fields within RBWM has gone from being important to being critical. Much of Braywick Park, one of the 2 Green lungs of Maidenhead has now disappeared under tarmac and steel, providing a new leisure centre and special needs school, with more to disappear as the plans for Maidenhead United Football club progress towards being provided a 21st Century home there as well. The other Green lung, the adjacent Maidenhead Golf Club looks set to return into development land from the Green Belt, to provide more than 2,000 homes, including 30% affordable, as well as a new primary and secondary school, public open space, community hub and supporting infrastructure. At the same time, North Maidenhead Cricket club with 2 cricket squares had been closed and returned into private ownership, along with the adjacent 3 major football surfaces used by over 400 Maidenhead boys and girls. Maidenhead is not now just full and built over, but the covenants on the lands that surround it, either owned by RBWM or the National Trust prevent its use for sport. As the owners of the only significant and accessible land left for sports fields, I have every hope that our plans for our playing fields will be successful in the future. Time and Need will tell of course.

I started with the Science and will end with the Scientist, Albert Einstein, who had this to say:

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“History is a race between education and catastrophe” – H.G.Wells


One of England’s greatest and prolific writers, H.G. Wells wrote a remarkable book entitled ‘The Outline of History’, encompassing 2 volumes and covering the progress of Humanity from the origin of Earth to the First World War. Whilst its contents and ideas have been superseded, his explanation for the Great War was that… catastrophe has won. Wells enjoyed huge celebrity status as a writer, not just for his History writings but also for his science fiction, such as the Invisible Man and the War of the Worlds. Like all editors he enjoy ‘tweaking’ his ‘Outlines’ as better or different evidence came to the fore disproving a particular event, and after his death in 1946 his son continued its improvement until 1970, by which time the Second World War had been added.

I wonder what HG would have made of the 21st Century? It started of course with such optimism, high hopes for both the end of poverty and the rise of reason across the globe. Clearly 11 September 2001 put an end to those hopes, though the ensuing Iraq, Afghanistan and Syrian conflicts, coupled with the civil wars within Islamic states and the subsequent Arab spring have left many nations more than a little perplexed on how education per se could have prevented such catastrophes. The Financial marketplaces don’t hold to the known laws of the Universe either, and the Global Financial crisis that unfolded in 2007 have continued to echo down through the subsequent decade to follow.

And then Coronavirus was awoken in the form of Covid-19, and all the other sections of life as we know it beyond financial also ceased to operate as we thought they could. BMJ Journals is a collection of more than 70 medical and allied science titles. They are published by BMJ, the global healthcare knowledge provider and pioneer in the development of open access. I came across their analysis of what Covid-19 has awakened in the world, and it makes for pretty sober reading. I quote from their summary:

Commentary: COVID-19: the rude awakening for the political elite in low- and middle-income countries 

  • Decades of bad political choices by the elite class has resulted in weakened health systems in many low- and middle-income countries
  • The resulting lack of high-quality care and poor health outcomes are typically only borne by those of lower socio-economic standing – with the elites and their families being able to seek care in high-income countries.
  • COVID-19 may change all that—a highly transmissible virus and restrictive measures that prevent elites from flying abroad has forced them to depend on an ill-equipped health system at home.
  • COVID-19 presents a stark illustration that we are all interconnected; social class, personal status or borders do not help to evade health vulnerability.
  • Enlightened self-interest of political elites may finally provide sufficient motivation to invest in an effective and integrated health system.

They conclude: Political choices determine the conditions under which people can be healthy, including how COVID-19 spreads and its impact on populations. Decades of political corruption1 and the permeation of neoliberal political ideology have left health systems, especially in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), chronically underfunded, insufficiently regulated, inadequately staffed and unable to deliver high-quality care. The resulting consequences are poor health outcomes, financial waste, increasing inequality, disproportionate share of global disease burden and immeasurable human suffering—especially for the most disadvantaged and vulnerable.

Of course UK is not such a country, being one of the highest income earning countries on the planet. But there are certainly echoes in the evidence emerging in the UK, being surfaced in parliament as I write that poor planning, chronic underfunding, financial waste and increasing inequality are emerging as common themes too, and dare we say, as a consequence of neoliberal political ideology.

One of the biggest dangers UK Education always faces is that it faces top-down wholesale slaughter from the Secretary of State responsible, because of course, like all such post holders, they’ve been to school and participated, and so think they know better! Of all of the ministers who have managed to upset us, Michael Gove carries the crown, referring famously to us in the Educational Establishment (whatever that is) as ‘the Blob’. This is the politician who forced performance-related pay on the state sector, changed all our local GCSE and A level syllabi and assessment criteria at once, and continued to push local authority schools into academisation, even if the evidence was to the contrary. Subsequent Secretaries of State have enjoyed equally inglorious and even shorter careers, Nicky Morgan, Justine Greening and Damien Hinds (covering a span of 5 years between them before the current incumbent, Gavin WIlliamson took up the mantle in 2019).

How does the Covid-19 pandemic bring Education into the same analysis as people’s public health, I hear you ask? Health, Welfare, Social Care and Education are all elements that inform a society’s success, and as there is no hiding place from the scrutiny of the consumers of these services in the UK, it’s pretty obvious that under the emergency, those in Health to Education have performed as well as they can, given the circumstances, but in its aftermath, there are many outstanding questions to resolve for the future, without which there clearly will be catastrophic outcomes. Is the hospital waiting list for operations, currently at 4.66 million – the biggest since counting began on 2007, going to be transformed back to the quality outcomes we were seeing before the austerity cut-back on services? Equally for those children in reduced circumstances, it is estimated the interruption to education they have experienced is almost a year, and could have a huge financial impact subsequently in adult life.

Here’s the Institute of Fiscal Studies writing about the matter last month, under the headline ‘The crisis in lost learning calls for a massive national policy response‘: By the time the pandemic is over, most children across the UK will have missed over half a year of normal, in person schooling. That’s likely to be more than 5% of their entire time in school. Absent a substantial policy response, the long-run effects of this learning loss are likely to be slow-moving and substantial. We will all be less productive, poorer, have less money to spend on public services, and we may be less happy and healthy as a result. We will probably also be more unequal, with all the social ills that come with it.

Whether we are talking about History or perhaps Current Affairs (to become History after 20 years), the evidence from those schools, state and independent, whose students have not suffered from learning loss is that they have established a clear, coherent learning approach, equally applicable in-person or on-line, and as a consequence kept the well established relations between teacher and learner alive come what may. What then is the difference in financial investment between success and failure? Can we deduce what institutions need to have done in order to avoid the circumstances that the IFS report: “Pupils from more disadvantaged backgrounds often lack the required digital equipment and study space to participate in effective remote learning. Younger pupils have found it more difficult to engage in remote learning. Schools, teachers and charities – not to mention parents – have gone to huge efforts to do what they can, but there is no substitute for time with a qualified teacher.

My school’s experiences speak of the need to have clear, coherent plans allied to professional development, values that won’t let people down and a relentless and ruthless desire to ensure we meet the needs in front of us. In the partnership activities we have with local state schools who welcome our support, we see the same clear eyed determination to problem solve. What you cannot achieve is our success by top-down leadership. As Richard Elmore, Emeritus Professor of Education at Harvard reporter in his seminal paper “Getting to scale, it seemed a good idea at the time”, you have to understand that every school, community town and city have their own unique ecologies, and the identified solution that will always work better and more readily is to take your current local teams, born and bred on the adversities and challenges where they are, and permit them to expand to pick up the slack. Imagine we had actually permitted all the local Public Health England teams to expand their activities of track and trace – that would have cost a fraction of the £37 billion that has been wasted over the last year. Imagine the private hospitals being permitted to pick up the slack of operations and procedures from the NHS, rather then their premises being requisitioned and then closed down as has actually happened. Imagine independent schools being given the opportunity to provide the additional support of teaching and nurture needed in our local areas.

As today’s investigative reporters are sleuthing out, one of the key issues about this government is its inability to tell the truth. Most of those who lead us, in parliament or government spads, follow the dictum – “How can you tell whether a politician is lying? – see if s/he moves their lips”! Here’s the Daily Mirror on how ‘new money for catch-up’ is actually old money rebadged. Because our mature democracy learns from the scandals that arise under our watch, we give parliament and independent watch-dogs the freedom to blow the whistle to safeguard the nation. Sadly we can’t always stop the politicians in resolving their egotistical need to ‘solve problems’, as David Cameron’s miserable failure to sort out the Conservative party by offering the Brexit vote to the nation prove. And there in lies the rub; as a country that continues to need to learn from its ‘lived’ history, we need to everything we can to keep our local economy and public services accountable locally. What Professor Elmore concludes in his paper on education reform is one I feel can be expanded to the whole breadth of Education, Health and Welfare. “I worry that we will not have learned how limited policy is a mechanism for transforming society. I worry about the excessive attention given to, and preoccupation with, fidelity to practices some of which, at best, find their roots in an obsolete industrial, colonialist society. “

In the future, History will declare that the winners emerging from this Covid-19 pandemic are those who took the opportunity to be flexible, adaptable and collaborative. The magical way our geneticists have collaborated across the globe to sequence the virus and grow the vaccine are almost matched by the agility of the health, care and education teams to make the best for our clients, wherever they are. As one who chooses to represent Education over Catastrophe, I continue that relentless drive to keep catastrophe at bay – and judging by the swathes of children now back in school and enjoying that regained opportunity to murmurate with their friends, I can smile and draw breath – for the moment at least, History is on our side!

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“Dare Mighty Things” – here on earth as well as on Mars!

Teddy Roosevelt must have dreamed of being able to attend school. Born into an affluent New Yorker family in 1851, he developed such serious asthma that he could not attend school per se, so was home educated during his school years. He regarded himself as a duffer at Maths, passable at Geography, and showed particular enthusiasm for history, biology and the foreign languages of French and German. There’s no doubt he developed an admirable independence and resilience, working on his fitness to overcome his breathing weakness, he became a competent boxer, and on entering Harvard for his first general degree he also took up rowing and threw himself completely into societies and publishing. Clearly one of the greatest US presidents ever, the quote I have chosen to lead with is a ‘sampler’ of probably the best presidential speech ever, Citizenship in a Republic, subtitled ‘The Man in the Arena’. Those in government today would do well to read the whole speech, cover to cover, as it covers some eternal verities that seem to have been misplaced in very recent years by the self-serving nature of the governments of UK, USA and France, the latter in which the speech was originally delivered, to an audience of European intellectuals the Sorbonne in Paris, France, on April 23, 1910.

The best ‘snip’ of the speech remains entitled ‘The Man in the Arena‘, much quoted many times by subsequent presidents, including Nixon and Mandela, and we are left to wonder what Teddy would have thought of its use as a Tatoo slogan (Miley Cyrus & Liam Hemsworth), or indeed as a Binary Bit code pattern on the parachute of the @perseverance lander, as it came down softly to land on the planet Mars last Thursday, 18 February 2021. Set as a tease for its followers on the internet, NASAs scientists highlighted that the irregular patterns of red and white carried a coded message. Within 6 hours it had been cracked, carrying the message ‘Dare Mighty Things’ and the coordinates of their Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena.

What I admire most about this highly successful mission to date of NASA is that it has largely been carried out by their team from their home. Now let’s be frank, all space missions are conducted remotely, from the original launch of Sputnik to the present day, there’s no Star Trek story of human’s travelling the galaxy yet. The people back home have a huge part to play still. What I am referring to is that those people have been based on laptops in their kitchens, very much as my school has been for the last 6 weeks once more, and yet the programme of travel, landing and now exploration has carried on seamlessly and with few hitches.

On 8 March 2021, England looks forward to its school communities returning to their buildings for in-class learning, and for those schools with the full deployment of technology at home, it’s fair to say we have been able to deliver our teaching, monitor learning and give feedback almost as well and so we return to school not just to worry about that core enterprise, but to expand the young peoples’ horizons through that physical presence back in the arenas of learning they know so well. Screen learning cannot capture the full excitement of laboratory practicals, of drama and PE practice, of working with tools and artifacts that challenge dexterity and through their deployment build skills and portfolios. It is time for our schools to ‘Dare Mighty Things’; we are of course in the middle of a pandemic, Covid-19, but R is well down, local community presence is dropping to the levels of last summer, and it is indeed time for childhood activities together to resume.

I ran Monday’s assembly in school at Senior Boys under the heading of ‘Breaking the Code’, as the NASA and OXFORD stories are very similar. Professor Sarah Gilbert and her team at the Jenner institute did not need the virus itself to prepare the vaccine for Covid 19 last January 2020, only its genome sequence from their fellow Chinese virologists, another great example of code-cracking. UK Science is rightly proud that now it has provided circa 50% of all C-19 genomic sequences, and we are set to provide a huge volume of vaccine and infrastructure support across the world. It’s interesting to read just how many UK universities and allied biotech companies are involved, with Imperial, Cambridge, UCL and Southampton additional to the Oxford Astrazeneca team, with a summary of some of that activity here. It is becoming quite clear to us here in the UK that our willingness to innovate and pioneer solutions is backed up by a very strong knowledge and skill-base, itself built on the extensive higher education research base built over decades here. From far galaxy work down to the atomic level, the reality that we have these (and all bases in between) covered, in part because this island nation’s people ”Dare Mighty Things’!

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“Being Brilliant Every Single Day” – or Solving Wickedness for Generation Covid.

Across the span of 20 years experienced so far this century, 2021 is already not on my favourite’s list. It has a chance to rise up the rank order, to be fair, but of the years experienced to date it’s in the bottom 1. Nevertheless, I and so many others know we must set out to be brilliant every single day. Here’s why:

Dr Alan Watkins’ TEDxPortsmouth talk back in 2012 (and there’s also a Part 2 that completes the story) highlights that everything we do, think, feel or emote is underpinned by our physiology, essentially all that biology happening inside ourselves all the time. He’s not the first neuroscientist to explain that if we want to think clearly and be our very best every time, then we must have worked out how to have settled ourselves down to live in the flow, despite the roller-coaster that living a life causes us to endure.

The core premise that neuroscience has taught us is that we have to get our physiology under control if we are going to steady our emotions, bring our feelings and thoughts under control, enabling us to focus our behaviours on doing the right things right – bingo. A lot can get in the way of that core premise of getting our physiology under control. Diet is a major factor, as are exercise and those more general well being issues of being warm, secure and safe. Hit the panic button and all hell can break loose. For example, if you are prone to worrying and feeling anxious, that causes your body to release the hormone cortisol – a good thing in times of fight because it releases sugars and repair materials into your bloodstream which enables you to fight harder and repair damaged tissue. The downside is that it closes down some of your other functions, the ability to think creatively and flexibly for example.

Here’s Dr Watkins writing about the problem of Cortisol on our lives at the start of the Coronavirus pandemic last March: “The main thing I want to draw attention to is to point out that if you are worrying or feeling anxious about the possibility of catching the virus that worry will increase the risk that you do catch it. Worrying and feeling anxious increases your cortisol levels (the body’s main stress hormone) and cortisol impairs your immune system, making you more susceptible. So in addition to washing your hands often and being sensible about human contact the biggest thing you can do to protect yourself is to not panic. Stay as positive as possible, this pandemic will pass.

What relation does this have on Wickedness per se I hear you say? Whilst my Christian religion introduced me to the concept as a child, it’s only as an adult that I have truly appreciated the concern about and the difficulty of Wicked problems. Let me explain more fully. Let’s start with a definition:

wicked problem is a social or cultural problem that is difficult or impossible to solve for as many as four reasons: incomplete or contradictory knowledge, the number of people and opinions involved, the large economic burden, and the interconnected nature of these problems with other problems.

Now, education is beset by wicked problems, and never more so than now, when almost all the usual boundaries that frame the difficulties have been removed as the vast majority of the variables, that’s children and teachers are not in school! More generally, our wicked issues are colliding with other wickedness, including the coronavirus and the 4 horseman of the Education apocalypse* galloping towards our children (according to Robert Halfon, Chair of Parliament’s education committee). Most in education take exception to Mr Halfon’s colourful panicking in public earlier this week; after all, as a politician he’s helped create the chaos in the first place. To be serious though, those conflicting external factors of poverty, lost learning, poor mental health and safeguarding hazards are causing unparalleled challenges in our midst, with eating disorders for example rising by 400%.

Charlie Mackesy has it right in this recent drawing of his:

Your plan for each day and your life further ahead is to ensure you have a stable physiological platform, and adopt the general premise that your rules and sensors are good to go. In education this means each day has to have an introduction, an oiling of the wheels, warm-up time or whatever – not just 2 minutes because life genuinely is not like that. If a class are going to enjoy being in a bubble of well-being, they need time every day to explore and built the relationships therein. The curriculum needs to built around the principle of curiosity, as Simon Sinek would always approved of ‘starting with the Why?’, and of course those alongside can readily test each other on their progress by checking ‘Did you find out why?’ at the close.

What you do each day needs breaks to refresh concentration and also to reform the bubble. Whether it be child or adult, the purpose of coming to work is not just for the work itself, but for the communion that is associated with developing relationships, friendships, common goals and resolving threats. I am staggered when institutions, be they schools or workplaces ‘compress the day’ to make it more efficient. Companionship and team learning need more time not less together. In education terms I am amazed too that physical activity at secondary level as a requirement has been reduced to perhaps no more than an hour a week. Frankly, the adolescent or adult needs to raise their pulse substantially for an hour a day, if for no other reason to be able to do so in a controlled and steady way, to remain familiar with their body’s ebb and flow. And the days need to be filled with the thinking and doing in every dimension, artistic, creative and thoughtful too.

Today’s Times (12 Feb 2021) runs a story on Generation Covid, considering carefully whether GCSEs are still fit for purpose, and more generally whether the school day and year need reconsidering too. I’m not a fan of much of the current spate of lazy journalism, this article once again pandering to quote a school that used to educate the Cambridge’s children pre-pandemic suggesting they are now ready to start a new secondary school without GCSEs. That Royal connection does not give validity to such pipe dreams, what does of course is the ‘lived’ experience of inclusive senior schools like mine where 100+ children a year seek to matriculate for further & higher education and into careers where for the time being at least, having skills & qualifications matters. Why we succeed of course is because the young people with us have the additional time in-school (usually) to enjoy their childhood and test their adolescent dreams. Who wouldn’t want to be practicing to death their ‘Dance show’ routines, or prepare for the ‘big match’, or just check-out how to hangout on Saturday? Those little squirts of adrenaline are all part of the the excitement of being alive, and certainly missing in the current locked-in lives of teens.

As Dr Watkins highlights in his talk, if we can keep all the positive and joyful elements of life in sight and on our wavelength, then we can have the fun and joy of raising and lowering our pulse, ‘gotta-be-done-but-in-a-good-way’. At the same time, let’s plan to reduce the release of cortisol and its harmful side effects to the bearable minimum by avoiding approaches recommended by the doom-mongers and misery peddlers. We’ll find our body weight so much easier to control too, because we have lowered the number of occasions our body has considered we’ve been in a fight, used energy and need nourishment. Of course we have not, but our physiology is not to know!

When my own children were growing up, during the eighties and nineties ‘wicked’ morphed from being something to fear to an expression of ‘wonderful’, ‘great’, ‘cool’, ‘splendid’ etc. Sadly, the business community didn’t see their Wicked problems get any easier, because of course the unseen parameters didn’t get any more visible, nor did the conflict get any simpler. And therein lies the rub, because ‘complexity’ lies at the heart of the human condition, and we seek to reduce and remove it at our peril. Ask a physicist what causes gravity, a biologist about love or a mathematician about time and they’ll confirm we don’t really know. Ask those same questions of an craftsman, poet or musician and they’ll provide you with more answers than you ever dreamed possible.

To that end, my solution to the solving of wickedness has to be “being brilliant every day”, keeping alive every potential. In educational terms this means we are seeking to produce Albert Einstein or Leonard Bernstein, Garbo or Thunberg, from our midst, though it must be said, we don’t actually know which one will be which!

*The four horsemen of the apocalypse are four biblical figures who appear in the Book of Revelation. They are revealed by the unsealing of the first four of the seven seals. Each of the horsemen represents a different facet of the apocalypse: conquestwarfamine, and death.

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Baby Steps and Dance Moves – Education in the 2020s

Throughout the developed world, the common factor of the shutting down of in-school provision by a coronavirus has put the whole rainbow range of provision under the closest scrutiny. Every country has had to adapt, adjust, not just tweak but change whole scale their ways of working and there have been some significant validated outcomes now on what works best. Even the best of schools and colleges are incredibly inefficient places, so it has come as no surprise to find some school activities work better on-line rather than in person. I’ll ignore simplistic lists; of course every one with technology can get to school by the click of a mouse key, and parent/pupil/teacher conversations just need ZOOM to enable, and the costs of school lunches have been reduced at a stroke. I’ll do my best to summarise those I consider of key importance below.

Children and teachers need to have human contact and the opportunity to build relationships. Some of those interactions are driven really well at junior level by the sheer fun that children and adults can have together. Just checking out how that can happen when in-school activities are forbidden emphasises the value that MUST be placed on ensuring schools and homes can connect with reliable technology. Do read my earlier blogs on the value of cloud-based learning and Chrome’s Tools & Books with this regard.

But once the connections have been made, there needs to be substance about the point of coming together in real time. So ZOOM per se is insufficient, particularly because the medium has become familiar for almost all activities, for witnessing as well as participation. Here’s where the skill, knowledge and understanding of the users comes to the fore, and where additional technology tools come in to play. Almost all the research that has ever been conducted in to learning confirms that it needs to immersive and involve more than 20 minutes concentration at once. So therein lies the rub; how are teachers who are not in the same space as their learners going to do more than just keep them entertained. In a ‘virtual’ space where frankly we have never had to work with learners before, can what we do be more than just ‘hit/miss’ or lucky guess?

Teaching and learning have always involved asynchronous activities, those carried on in the student’s own time, rather than in concert with all the others. Core to all learning is reading of course, and it’s no surprise I hope that this teacher reminds all that the route to the widest vocabulary we need is via reading. So what we plan remotely needs to carry that ‘goldilocks’ mix of inspiration together whilst ‘perspiring’ apart. Flipped learning predates the pandemic, and it’s certainly the case that if students can cover the ground that needs to be exposed first, such as read the chapter, watch the demonstration/lecture, listen to the audiotape prior to coming together to analyse and collaborate together.

Past masters of remote learning are the teachers who work with remote communities who can’t come together at the best of times. In the English language most notably that’s the Alice Springs School of the Air, which joins the education of 120 or so children across the ‘woop woop’, local slang for ‘in the middle of nowhere’, covering the middles of Australia, about the same size as France. It is in a teacher’s DNA to try to make something out of nothing, because all the best lessons arise that way. So in this new ‘woop woop’ in which we find ourselves gives us those opportunities too, conjuring up in the imagination opportunities we had scarcely dreamed of before. Last week for example, I encouraged 64 boys aged 11 to 14 to sign up for remote Food Tech, creating possibly a new accomplishment for the Buiness Book of Records, the largest remote cooking of a Macaroni Cheese.

All over the world, teachers and students have been learning together the new tools and translating old manners in new ways. Who speaks and when, cameras on or off, mikes on when asked, collaborative tools that work across screens, be they smileys, hand shakes, jamboards or tiling work areas as needs must. Every week new tools join the ecosystem, and notwithstanding the need to abide by GDPR requirements (not easy now we are post Brexit), we can further develop relationship building through being more creative and increasing collaboration. Currently our senior school is creating Album covers, and my core SLT agreed to make their stand at Waterloo with me to warm up the competition.

We need to be deadly serious about the use of humour and creative skills at all times, more so now because human well-being requires these ingredients to be present, particularly among the young. Households weary of each other anyway, but the adolescent brain has to develop through its willingness to confront and challenge, to grow up and know its own mind. Through our own personal journeys through our teens and twenties, boredom was inevitable; these days perhaps the mind can be more readily occupied by engaging with influencers and social media on-line, but those ‘baby steps’ in to learning new skills and taking opportunities alone are essential elements to be made available. ‘Baby steps’ is a great phrase, because these are made together often without one knowing the other is there. Teachers and parents must empower those small strides to occur, though monitor and observe nevertheless.

‘Baby steps’ also best describes the small 1% incremental gains we can make each day to improve the skills we have. I consciously now try not to bite off more than I can chew at a time, but I remain incredibly ambitious for the things I can create over time. By way of example I show you my new office creation, ‘slapped on screen’ today whilst writing this blog, and in-between all the other challenges of running a school, meetings, bulletin making etc. You’ll note I have 2 images available…

One for publishing in documents like this, the other for showing as my background on-line, because the image is usually reversed so you as a teleconferencer are not discomforted by your mirror image not matching your actions.

But whatever your ‘Baby steps’ are to be in this bold new world of enabling and empowering education to be the best it can be, let’s remember too what your usual steps and strides are. those of a really competent professional on the stage of learning, confident in your dance steps whatever the pace and rhythm of the day requires. I’m a great believer that schools are there to develop skills for 7, 11, 16, 18 and for 60+ too, we build people for life beyond qualifications. As one prospective parent made very clear earlier this week, “I don’t want to place my child in a school where the culture gives her exam passes coupled with anxiety, depression and no confidence at all”.

That’s where the dance moves come into their own. Few can have missed the phenomenon that is ‘Strictly Come Dancing’, in which so many with little knowledge learn, step by painful step, how to move from a parody on the dance floor to a sophisticated team moving in complete harmony. Whilst I admire coaching a lot, the fine tuning of an individual, I love more the role that teachers have to choreograph their class’ moves, and of course even more in my current role, as School Principal, to ‘pull’ my many ‘instrumental groups’ together into the ‘symphony orchestra’ that school life can be. My dance steps are all about leading our school community, children & adults both, learners and coaches, on a journey through this pandemic, confident that we have those little details in place that permit successful learning to happen, and assured that our method & direction of travel is fun and fruitful. Whilst there may be a false dawn appearing on the near horizon (schools to open on 8 March), whether on virtual screen or in real life, we will continue to work in ambitious harmony, that’s for sure!

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“Ideas are not always responsible for the people that have them” – Katharine Whitehorn

Richard Wells, former Chief Constable of South Yorkshire wrote to the Times this week, in order to pay tribute to this less well known quote of the recently deceased journalist, author and broadcaster, Katharine Whitehorn. He explains how over a career of professional policing, understanding that solutions for dispute resolution might arise from the most unlikely quarters, and that’s a view with which I wholeheartedly concur.

I find that teaching brings me into contact with the most remarkable and often previously unheard of conflicts, both in the classroom and in the wider world. Trying to ‘fix’ an adolescent woe is a most unwise activity. Remembering another old dictum, ‘2 ears, one mouth’, I have found it is always better to listen first, ‘hear the noise’, distinguish whether there is reason therein, and if so, pursue said reason to what may indeed be the most logical and straightforward solution. In the “he said’ she said” last chance saloon, you can be very certain that your version of ‘reason’ won’t come out on top. But listening perhaps to the protagonists and their friends is often much more likely to result in a longer term peaceful resolution for the combatants. The tragedy for teachers is of course that so many petty squabbles occur in a day that they don’t actually have the time to address them all, moreover quite frequently their brusqueness with  the process fans the flames!

Since the coronavirus struck schools last March, it does very much seem that for the nation at large, their children’s education has been in freefall. Mumsnet has declared most of its members’ ‘home-schools’ as now being in special measures, and there is more than a grain of truth in the idea that wine is being drunk in tea mugs on-screen to hide the bringing forth of ‘opening time’. And in almost every newspaper and magazine article on this I read, it turns out that children in private schools are managing to continue their education at almost pre-pandemic levels, which causes an even brighter spotlight to be focused on those in the state sector falling further behind. Whilst I am proud of my school’s remarkable efforts in this arena, I also recognise with great respect the work of other schools managing in their unique ways, and it seems perhaps that approximately 25% of the nation’s schools are coping well, a far greater ratio than just the 7% independently educated. 

What Whitehorn’s quote obliquely refers to is well illustrated within Education.  Throughout my lifetime, the state education agencies and wider aparatchics have had a natural prejudice against our sector, and almost any good work we do is framed in providing yet more advantage to the already advantaged. England’s state education financiers have chosen to include the development of elite musicianship, dance and ballet in specialist institutions, and those include schools I know well such as the Purcell and the Royal Ballet. This is a tiny volume of funding, and the Treasury’s only other additional high-needs funding block goes to those with special needs. Currently the government itself is called into question,with 2/3rds of Johnson’s cabinet the products of the private sector, and a similar volume products of the best universities – in short our sector knows how to develop talent, but that success is shaped by the accusation that it arises purely from privilege, and nothing to do with the skills and time we deploy in our schools for this purpose. 

The trouble is, that every good idea our sector has in terms of bringing others from less fortunate backgrounds up to speed inevitably creates a further imbalance for those we have not been able to reach and thus apparently are left behind. I am utterly fed-up with the hand-ringing by well meaning commentators on equality in the UK, who consistently blame us for our success yet don’t follow the evidence we surface to explain why what we do works. In Elitist Britain 2019, the HM Gov reports that  43% of men and 35% of women playing international cricket for England went to private school. It’s easy to work out why, because our sector attaches such value to the development of athletic skills, and cricket is one of our national sports. 

When I graduated from Google Teacher Academy in 2012, to keep my Certified Innovator accreditation, I had to sign up (and every year recommit) to provide advice and support generically in my field of expertise (education) to assist in community projects rolling out the benefits of digital education to an ever-wider audience. Right from the outset, I (and everyone else rolling out from similar activities stimulated by Microsoft, Apple or Adobe) have always been clear when supporting communities about the need to create a digital ecosystem that supports individuals within it. So as in the development of cricket as a sport, for IT you have to show how to create and develop the infrastructure of nets, wickets, grounds and opportunities for the individuals and communities therein to thrive. Cricket requires ground staff, coaches, expertise in multiple disciplines across a wide arc of time and opportunity, and above all a belief for those all involved in its importance and relevance. 

Truly, until March last year’s #lockdown, the vast majority of schools I had been invited to support as a Google Workspace ambassador simply didn’t understand the priorities they needed to attach to the development of an digital ecosystem to ensure that it could thrive in their school. We are not talking about money here, because that is a finite resource. We are talking about the days, months, years of cut-and-mow to ensure that the digital nets, wickets, outfields etc would work when needed. Personally I have had to learn how to code, rebuild chromebooks, connect projectors, test Apps and phones, understand wifi and make why-not decisions. It is no surprise to me at all that our state schools don’t have the architecture in place to support children at school and at home, because it has never been a government priority, and even now, government and its agencies show it does not have a clue.

By way of example, I chose Chromebooks for Claires Court because they are devices you can manage completely from afar, they have no requirements for software to be loaded by hand and they work on their battery alone for 8 hours or more and have a 6+ year lifespan. Their entire operating system is protected by Google from viruses and Google sorts out the problems remotely if its software utilities don’t work. Government continues to insist they provide laptops, the latest 25000 turning out to be infected with Russian Malware, and all running under windows 10, which requires local software installation, subscription services to Microsoft, weaker battery life, shorter life span, and with nothing like the professional support available at a local level to rectify. 8 years down the road, and I despair that almost a million laptops will have been shipped out to schools without a belief by those involved that the provided solution would work. Frankly a new Geo 11inch laptop is about the same cost as a new cricket bat (circa £200); I would not choose to secure the future of English cricket by shipping a cricket bat to all those needing one, so why the government is doing more than handing out laptops beats me. 

In Education, as in Cricket, you have to get the grass roots right. If you want to reach children and provide them with education, you have to secure them in school, and provide them with access at home. It was never enough just to leave children to their own devices at home, and most houses will have those. Fundamentally schools need to be open for much longer, and be that place for sport, art, drama, music, wrap around care too. Schools are essential centres in their community, and not just for learning, but for welfare and care too. All of our early chromebooks (from 2012/3) could take a sim card given them 4G access to the web, through which they could reach the school’s Hub. This Google site has not changed in appearance for 8 years, because we want it accessible from even the humblest of devices. It’s our portal onto the 2021 educational landscape that our virtual school plays out, and requires the lowest bandwidth we can require. Yet as the calendar and other apps show, it’s completely current and content-rich. 

Great ideas are out there in the wide world arising from every and any place, whether humble or privileged. And we witnessed such on Wednesday, when Amanda Gorman, aged 21, spoke her poem at President Biden’s inauguration. 

We, the successors of a country and a time where a skinny black girl descended from slaves and raised by a single mother can dream of becoming president only to find herself reciting for one. And yes, we are far from polished, far from pristine, but that doesn’t mean we are striving to form a union that is perfect. We are striving to forge our union with purpose. To compose a country committed to all cultures, colours, characters, and conditions of man. And so we lift our gazes not to what stands between us, but what stands before us. We close the divide because we know to put our future first, we must first put our differences aside. We lay down our arms so we can reach out our arms to one another. We seek harm to none and harmony for all. Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true. That even as we grieved, we grew. That even as we hurt, we hoped. That even as we tired, we tried that will forever be tied together victorious. Not because we will never again know defeat, but because we will never again sow division.”

What great ideas, what genuine empathy, what real hope there is for all of us, when such a young voice calls us all in to greater ideas than currently we dare to hold?

At the closing of another busy week in school, I’ll continue with that public good of promoting and prioritising good ideas within our wider community. I do hope they’ll be received in the manner they are given, generously and with integrity. Time will tell; in the meantime I do assure all that education and cricket will continue to thrive at Claires Court – #CCPride!

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Managing assessment and feedback during a pandemic – failing safe is a great plan.

As our Lent Term 2021 gets firmly underway, our remote learning provision at Claires Court seems to have eased through the gears without too many difficulties. As #clairescourt settles into the groove of the weekly cut&mow, here’s the elements in the wider landscape we are having to contend with.

1. Lateral Flow testing is up and running, both for checking students on their return (in due course) and for on-going monitoring of teaching and support staff. What’s the problem: are the people licencing the use of both vaccines and coronavirus testing kist in the country.
As you’ll recall, the government are sending to all schools LTFs both for initial screening and on-going screening for staff and daily testing for pupils who might have been compromised by contact with the virus. It’s a key component in their strategy, to keep students at school most of the time. Well, what’s emerged over the past 48 hours is the MHRA refuses the use of LTFs for daily usage in schools, taking the view that such tests give spurious and ill-deserved confidence. Now this is particualrly interesting to independent schools because the DfE have confirmed (in response to a Commons Written Question) that they are not able to extend funding to independent schools and colleges with fee-paying individuals to ensure that children educated in the private sector have access to mass covid-19 testing, for this specific purpose. We have our own secure supply of LFTs available now, but it is interesting to consider what happens when DfE says ‘swipe&test’ and MHRA says ‘don’t bother’!

2. Summer Public Examinations. Having made it quite clear that there were to be no public exams for A levels and GCSEs, the Secretary of State for Education has been backpedalling massively, not least because he recognises that independent schools make use of international exam bodies (not in his care) who intend to continue with such exams if conditions permit. Gavin Williamson now finds himself between a rock and many hard places, so has decided (as he did last year) to suggest actually that Ofqual are going to run a consultation to see what’s best for the country, that consultation was published today, and a commentary from SchoolsWeek can be found here –,2021%20amid%20partial%20school%20closures. In short, as I have already made clear internally, our own exam students have no excuse not to take the exams, as they have neither lost teaching time nor missed work. Whatever they are facing is being trimmed back, to be announced in March. In the meantime, keep working, studying, learning and revising – that’s how we gather the combination of knowledge and skills needed anyway.

3.The title of this blog suggests that information and feedback is always valuable. Friday mornings for headteachers and school secretaries and Friday afternoons for Marketing are spent getting our weekly bulletins ready to roll out at the close of day. One of the leading communicators in the UK education space, Ross Morrison McGill (@teachertoolkit) wrote his blog this week entitled “”. He suggest the blog is a 3 minute read, but it’s certainly more than that, and its key points are that we (the school) should be tracking you (the reader) with very great care, to spot actually whether you are opening up our communications at all, and by analysing the data, adjust our communications strategy accordingly.
There’s more than a whiff of ‘Big Brother’ in his suggestions, and I am most uncomfortable with the general ideas that parents would expect their readership to be tracked.

For the time being at least, we will get on with doing the best things we can, communicating effectively in advance as well as just in time, so that the breadth of our readership’s habits are accommodated with integrity and compassion. I know how busy parents are, but knowing that there is always a default bulletin there in your intray permits you to know we have ‘failed safe’ for you.

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Into the New Lent Term 2021 – Baby steps…

My very short Late Advent headline indicated “Follow the Science”, as I entered 6 days of track&trace for our community after the end of term.

Our school community data is not large enough to represent a wider community, and as such is only useful as a depiction of the wider picture, one small detail of many. Actually we kept the feedback coming over the Christmas break, and this self-reporting status showed just how carefully our community were managing their interactions with others. Our school population is approx 1000 children and 350 staff. In number terms, we were recording less than 1 a day, 11 over the 21 day period, weekly thus representing 271 cases per 100,000.

More concerning is that our wider geographical area is reporting a case load 3 to  4 times higher, indicative of an R number near 1.5, so we can see that great care is needed to assist the community in bringing down the infection rate well below 1. Our local NHS Hospital Trust at Frimley Heath announced this yesterday:

“Coronavirus infections have increased significantly across London and the south-east of England and this has resulted in more people from our community needing hospital care. We have been enacting our contingency plans to increase capacity so that we can continue to give all patients the care they urgently need. That includes, unfortunately, having to postpone most non-urgent operations and appointments. We will contact you if your appointment is affected and we will let you know as soon as it has been rescheduled. If your condition worsens while you are waiting, please contact your GP or your hospital service.”

For some of our families, they are currently marooned away from home under travel restrictions and embargoes, be that just individuals or perhaps the whole family group. It’s difficult to reach out to everyone, but here’s hoping my extended comms team @clairescourt are continuing to work wonders to keep the airwaves open and families informed.

Just before Christmas I wrote to all of our secondary families to remind them to look after the major tool that keeps our teachers and students connected, the individual workhorse of our school day, the HP Chromebook. Their competitor, Acer, has worked heroically to step up supply here in the UK, and I’ve kept a very close eye on the reseller market to mop up the occasional ‘still-in-date’ chromebook appearing on Ebay and similar. The world chromebook shortage hit the front pages of the New York Times last December, and as new models come back into stock, they are entering the much higher-priced quality market than the workhorse models schools use.

And also, just before Christmas, we heard from the National Planning Inspectorate that our appeal on our new campus planning application was dismissed.  The reasons for refusal were clear, that whilst there was great weight in favour of the school’s proposal to relocate onto one campus, significant weight in terms of our economic contribution to RBWM, and moderate weight for the other benefits retained or established, including those enabling the relocation of Maidenhead Hockey Club into a single venue, these were not sufficient to counter the purposes of Green Belt, those being to contain development, maintain openness and prevent harm to the character and appearance of the area.

The hearing was conducted by planning inspector, Joanna Gilbert, and the published report can be found here:  She wrote this summary in our favour:

Drawing together the various issues which form part of the need to alter the school, I recognise the very real concerns of the school in securing its long-term future against a picture of seeking to provide equality of education for boys and girls; address the inefficiencies of split sites and the existing condition and layout of the C[ollege] A[venue] and R[ay ]M[ill ]Road ]E[ast] sites; the challenges faced in finding alternative sites; the provision of other schools in the Green Belt; and the effect of not allowing Appeal A on the provision of school places. In terms of the need to alter the school within Appeal A, I afford this matter great weight.

Economic and employment opportunities: The main parties recognise that the school is a significant local employer. Indeed, according to the local Chamber of Commerce, the school is the tenth largest employer within the borough. It directly employs 345 staff and has a further 50 peripatetic tutors. Many of the school’s staff live within the borough. The Council and the appellant are in agreement that this factor attracts significant weight in respect of Appeal A and moderate weight for Appeal B. I see no reason to disagree with this weighting.

Her summary conclusion weighed the elements for and against:

Great weight is attached to the identified need for the proposal within Appeal A. Significant weight is attached to economic and employment opportunities offered through Appeal A, while such benefits are moderate in respect of Appeal B. Attracting moderate weight are the biodiversity enhancements for Appeals A and B, the nursery provision for Appeal A, and the sports facilities and provision for MHC in Appeal B. I attach limited weight to teacher training and other training for Appeals A and B, and wraparound and holiday care for Appeal A.

Case law confirms that a number of factors, none of them “very special” when considered in isolation, may when combined together amount to very special circumstances. Notwithstanding the considerable importance of the other considerations set out, for very special circumstances to exist, the other considerations would need to clearly outweigh the harms identified above. In this case, I find that those other considerations, including the best interests of the children, are not sufficient to clearly outweigh the harms.

So what are my early hopes for 2021 and beyond.

  1. Baby steps are needed at this time, to ensure the school I lead maintains poise and progress in these difficult times. This we will achieve.
  2. Now is not the time to be ‘political’ in our intent nor ‘frantic’ in our activity. We have very clear and conscious actions to promote the best outcomes for every individual and cohort of pupils  in the school, whilst keeping our staff and wider community safe from infection and worse. We step forward with certainty and cover the academic, pastoral and social welfare fully and professionally
  3. It’s now clear that the academic outcomes for older boys and girls at GCSE and A level are going to be determined by the quality of provision they have received over the past year, primarily led by the quality of the academic staff leading their education, supported by the benchmarked evidence against national standards we hold on every child.
  4. As in 2020, we will be able to demonstrate that our curriculum is coherent, well published and documented. Our timetable, whether in school or remote is very clearly capable of being delivered in a successful and timely manner for our students.
  5. The school’s 25 year plus commitment to the statistical national benchmarking conducted on pupil entry and during their progress through the school continues to demonstrate the very high value we add to individual pupil ability scores over time.
  6. That ‘growth’ curve showing the pupils’ improvement over time leads us to predict once again that at GCSE our current cohort will gain almost all GCSEs at grade 4 and above and A level/BTEC at C/Merit and above.
  7. Moving on to the challenges of developing our school campus proposals, I’ll return to the Inspector’s report: “The main parties agree that the school performs extremely well and is the equivalent of an Ofsted ‘outstanding’ school within the independent school sector. Indeed, many representations supported the proposed developments, …spoke passionately at the Inquiry about the school’s positive approach to education and its beneficial effects on its pupils.The delivery of this high quality education provision takes place within a range of buildings of different ages across three sites. This is recognised by the main parties as being sub-optimal for the school. Issues relating to the need to alter the school include inequalities in social and educational provision for boys and girls; inefficiencies of split sites; condition and layout of existing buildings; the sequential assessment of alternative sites; the provision of other schools in the Green Belt; and the effect of not allowing Appeal A (the school) on the provision of school places. Furthermore, the Court of Appeal considered that the schools affected (by the Gender separation in Education judgement)  should be given time to put their houses in order in the light of the judgment’s conclusion.
  8. We have planned future meetings with both RBWM and other informed advisors on how best to meet the remaining objections to our proposals for a new campus, certain in the knowledge that Road traffic, Highways more generally and matters of Biodiversity and Ecology are no longer hindering factors.
  9. And finally our focus must remain very balanced, to show concern for all of those ‘hygiene’ factors that help our school.

So here we are at the end of the first week of our New Year, 2021.

The science is telling us that schools and almost all interactive community activities need to be curtailed to ensure we can slow down viral transmission, whilst at the same time roll-out the vaccination programme at an ever increasing pace. So whilst ‘schools-in!’, we are largely virtual though working the full day for all. From what I can see and hear, all 1200 or so in our academic community are all back up and running, MEETs with teachers are the new order of the day. The school nurses have successfully swept 99 of us through our Lateral Flow tests without a positive, and we will be ready soon to manage the 100 tests a day we need to ensure our school safe for all. These of course are but Baby Steps, but is is by conquering such distances safely every day that great journeys to amazing destinations can be achieved.


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