Let’s go Zero – How?

Back in June this year, the headteachers within RBWM were all written to by our council leader for Adult Social Care, Children Services, Health and Mental Health, encouraging all schools to start taking steps towards reaching net zero, using the Ashden Let’s go Zero campaign as an exemplar. It’s a splendid example of thought leadership by our current council administration, and it chimed very well with the work we had been planning for many years for our new campus development, as and when that was approved. Our new buildings were of course to be of the latest design, adopting the newest and best of modern technologies, but sadly, the same administration (and sadly the national planning inspectorate as well) thought otherwise. So here we are, Claires Court School in 2021, and what are we going to do to support such plans, given that we are to remain for the time being on 3 sites and in buildings that hark back to the Victorian era?

Firstly, please let’s remember that the school owns its land, both its 2 sites in central Maidenhead and its 60 acres by Maidenhead Thicket. So we have to do as much as we can to reduce our carbon footprint, but I betcha many readers won’t know what the means. So here goes to set the record straight…

“A carbon footprint is the total amount of greenhouse gases (including carbon dioxide and methane) that are generated by our actions. The average carbon footprint for a person in the United States is 16 tons, here in the UK is 8.3 tons, to compare two of the highest rates in the world. Globally, the average is closer to 4.7 tons.”

Back in June, the UK government set its ambition to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, though it’s definitely more a wish list than the start of a task driven project. I sense that BJ and his ministers are likely to be using more of David Cameron’s nudge theory rather than choosing to things practical themselves, because (if nothing else) they have far too much on currently to resolve the current Brexit/Covid/Austerity crisis.

Believe you me, my school is doing its best to reduce its energy usage, but however hard we try, we will still be running busses, heating buildings, cooking food and all the things humans do to live and survive in C21. Over a decade, it’s fair to say that our human headcount has averaged 1000 in terms of children and 250 full time equivalent adults – there are times when I do wonder whether nursery children should count as a whole number, but to keep me honest, let’s in the end agree Claires Court has 1250 humans under its roof, spread of course across Maidenhead.

To be honest, the data on individual child and adult Carbon footprints a year is reported at really variable amounts, with some quotes for families at 17 tons of CO2 emissions being lower than for individuals, so much so that advice needs to be tailored, not generic. The most important recommendation I can see coming the way of schools is that we should aim to plant One Tree Per Child , I’ll buy that, and that accounts for the first 1000 we have on the stocks. Of course we need to consider our staff do not wish to feel left out, and whilst we have 250 full time equivalents, what with part time roles, job shares and volunteers, we can certainly add another 500 into the mix. And let’s make sure everyone plants one for a friend, someone less fortunate and with no access to trees or land, and that gets us to the 3000 we have to hand.

In due course, 3000 mature trees will provide us with carbon sequestration of 60+ tonnes a year, and even more helpfully scrub the air of pollution toxins and breathe out sufficient Oxygen for 6000 adults – more than enough to cover our local population as well as our school settings across Maidenhead. The nice thing is about our project is that we will still have circa 20 hectares of grasslands also doing their bit for CO2 removal and Oxygen production; adding an additional 20+ tonnes a year removal from the air and supporting a further 3000 adults with their Oxygen needs.This brings the total Carbon Dioxide removal to 80+ tonnes and reoxygenating 9000+ souls across the RBWM.

I’m staggered by the CO2 footprint being so very much bigger than our oxygen needs; this is because of course whenever we travel in a car, train or plane, we burn so very much more oxygen than we breathe. And everything we need is also delivered in the main using powered vehicles, so I can see we need to encourage societal change to accept that growing & making your own makes what we do more likely to be sustainable and that staycations are the way ahead. And whilst winter is coming, we could do with not switching the heating on so early. Oh dear… I’ll think I’ll stick to encouraging everyone to plant trees and grow grass, so Zero or Not, here come the Tiny Forests!!!

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Planning for the future…

My long experience as a teacher of 46 years standing informs me that we should always be planning for the future so that as and when change happens, we have the agility to adapt to those new and unfamiliar circumstances. I have a few strands in motion now for our school and its community for the months that lie ahead and I share with you one of these below , to support the further development of our sports facilities. 

Claires Court School Fields at Ridgeway 

When we purchased the fields adjacent to our Junior Boys school eight years ago, we laid some 14 acres of the fields immediately adjacent to the school as sports fields with two cricket squares, a proactive decision because such new surfaces take time for the land to settle and the grass to grow. Those original plans to use the fields as cricket squares, with the outfields serving as suitable playing surfaces for our winter sports of Rugby and Football, were superseded to accommodate other interests arising.  In particular, as our revised  proposals included using this land for car parking and to support the development of artificial surfaces for hockey, we did not at the time apply for change of use for this specific area of our field from agricultural to education use. 

Since January 2021, we have been actively discussing how best to use this resource and have widened our conversations with local councillors, planners and sports bodies. Whilst our own efforts were underway, one of the major cricket clubs in the town lost access to their grounds and facilities. North Maidenhead Cricket Club has been a major partner with our Senior Boys school for some time, its excellent facilities providing two cricket squares and nets for our cricketers for ten years or so. 

The sudden closure of such a remarkable club, with over 100 years of history and at the time hosts for the Berkshire Ladies cricket squad, affected us all with no notice given. Whilst Claires Court were able to intensify our use of our other partners’ grounds (Boyne Hill ) and guest at Cookham Dean, we still needed the pitches lost from North Maidenhead for our school use.   It also left North Maidenhead Cricket Club in an impossible position and the adult club ceased to play in April 2021.  

During the summer weekday, for cricket on any one games afternoon, we need 7 cricket squares/nets available for age range 9 to 18; we manage our own squares (3), have a formal partnership with Boyne Hill cricket club for the daily provision of 2 more, so the shortfall of 2 is real, and can only get worse as our girls’ increase their engagement with the sport as well.

Understanding that both North Maidenhead and ourselves had lost valuable cricket pitches, I met with Majid Khan, chairman of North Maidenhead Cricket Club and other players, and this summer were able to host some of their junior section on our current junior boys’ cricket facilities.  

As our school does not play weekend afternoon cricket, there’s a natural synergy possible if our application for our own use of our new grounds is successful, as North Maidenhead could utilise this space for their club.  With our sports hall, changing facilities and car parking alongside the new surfaces, already built in the school grounds, it’s a natural fit for both partners. Thus in August this year, we made an application for a change of use for the laid sports turf area from agriculture to education.  This application is now live on the RBWM planning portal, planning application number 21/02500, where all plans and supporting documents can be viewed. 

The whole of the fields as seen are within Claires Court School boundary, with the shaded area showing the grass playing fields laid in 2013. Whilst we propose to use a quarter of the 48 acres for sport, this does leave the substantial remainder for agricultural use, currently hay cropping. Whether winter or summer sports, the activity will be supported by our own school sports building offering changing facilities and toilets, current roadways and permanent parking.  There are no plans or applications for additional buildings, lighting or permanent parking facilities.  The current sports busses we use for carrying our senior boys sportsmen to their games sessions will carry our pupils to the grounds, and no additional traffic is expected to be generated during their normal internal use.

Partnerships with Maidenhead & district sports clubs.

As a major secondary school providing sports education to over 600 boys and girls every day, it’s difficult for a lay person to comprehend why we need such substantial sports facilities. We coach nine sports to county/regional/national/international standard, those being athletics, cricket, football, hockey, netball, rowing, rugby, sailing and tennis. Other sports that we also provide for are golf and swimming. Our active, formal partnerships with local sports clubs include (in South Bucks) Huntswood Golf, Phoenix Rugby, Taplow lakeside and (within RBWM) Maidenhead Hockey, Maidenhead Rowing, Maidenhead Sailing, Boyne Hill, Living Tennis at Bisham Abbey and Little Marlow Athletics stadium. This investment the school makes with its partners helps both school and clubs; not only does it provide additional revenue for the clubs, but it also introduces our boys and girls to ‘club life’ meaning they continue one as sports players beyond school age, with all the benefits for fitness, health and community engagement that brings. 

International sporting legacy

Following the wonderful performance of the amazing athletes of all nations in the Tokyo 2020 competitions this summer, our children have returned to school keener than ever to develop their sport. And as Emma Radukanu and Leylah Fernandez showed last weekend at the US Open tennis finals, international competition and stardom beckons just as adulthood begins, so school is where training and competition has to take place. Our town and its sporting clubs therein has a wonderful history of supporting the development of athletes of all hues, let alone the achievements of those from our own school, such as Ellie Rayer who won Olympic Bronze with Women’s Hockey at the Olympics. That’s something Claires Court certainly chooses to continue further with our boys and girls for many years to come. And we do that best by sharing the development of facilities for all, as our partner sports clubs are sure to testify.

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Schools back…

… I was so hoping to publish our exciting plans for the year ahead today, but we’ve been taken to the wire by other work we’ve had to concern ourselves with, so…

If you are CC Alumni and attending tonight’s social at Boyne Hill Cricket Club, I’ll see you there…

otherwise, please keep your eyes skinned for my update start of term news for the Claires Court Community for the Autumn Term 2021 and beyond.

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Public examinations 2021 – a fair outcome for those students caught up in the pandemic!

A level results are in for the 2021 Cohort, and they will in the main be delighted by the outcomes they’ve achieved at the close of their Sixth Form studies. For the Claires Court cohort, 43% gained A* or A, 76% A* to B, with 88% making their first choice University destination. As this picture looks very similar to 2020, the first year where teacher assessed grades replaced exam grades, it’s comforting to know the teachers have been able to sustain high standards of participation and engagement, despite all the difficulties of the In-Out school we have been required to run for the last 18 months.

It’s clear though that these results are higher than if they had been determined by public examination, marked and determined by independent examiners, so does this ‘grade inflation’ then bring the whole process into disrepute or worse? It’s useful to have the University entrance data to refer to, because with so many applicants winning their first choice place, that’s indicative that higher education isn’t being sniffy at all, and actually are ready to welcome our successes with open arms. And well done them, because the graduates of 2021 are demonstrably a resilient bunch, who’ve missed a host of ‘rights of passage’ events because of the closure of UK entertainment PLC, and yet have found new ways of carrying on their lives with family and friends regardless.

There is a historical precedent to what we have currently experienced. that being the choice by England, Wales and Northern Ireland to move from O levels to GCSEs in the 1980s. This exercise was conducted to ensure that the whole cohort of students passing through secondary school could enjoy a common experience of curriculum, coursework and examination, replacing the apartheid that O level (top 20%), CSE (mid 40%) and non-exam (bottom 40%) had brought to schools prior to their introduction in 1986. Inevitably far more students ‘passed’ GCSEs than ever passed O levels, and ever since researchers have been trying to prove that standards have slipped. In reality, the expansion of general education to all at GCSE has led to the massive expansion of higher education as a consequence; pre GCSE only 5% of the population attended University, where now it is 10 times the size, and the country’s economy benefits massively as a consequence.

Reach further back, and you can find a brilliant spoof report written by Harold Benjamin, back in 1939, a satirical commentary on the nature of schooling and school reform, “The Saber Tooth Curriculum”. Using an alias of J. Abner Peddiwell, Benjamin wrote on the topic of stone-age education. Readers learn that in the Paleolithic curriculum, children were taught how to grab fish, club woolly horses, and scare saber tooth tigers. They needed these skills to sustain themselves – to get food and protect themselves from danger. In time, however, colder climatic conditions prevailed. The local waters grew muddier, making it impossible to see, let alone grab the fish, and the horses and tigers eventually died away. Yet the schools continued to teach fish grabbing, horse clubbing, and tiger scaring techniques, believing them to be fundamentals with inherent character-building and mind-training value. Progressive stone-age educators would argue that new skills needed to be taught, including fishnet making and ways to deal with a new menace, the glacier bear. Through “The Saber Tooth Curriculum” Benjamin shows how schools often conduct themselves in ways that are unresponsive to the emerging needs of the life experience.

If I may draw us back to 2020 & 2021, it would have been entirely inappropriate for us to have regressed students grades from what they were capable of achieving at the time, and what actually they would have achieved given the lottery of the exam room and the requirements of the exam boards to keep grades awarded down to % of the cohort. Using rationing to keep grades down is the current choice of the UK government, the most often quoted statistic being that only 3% are permitted to gain a level 9 at GCSE.

Rationing, whether deliberate or accidental is no way to manage a testing system. Just consider the appalling state the country has got itself into through not running HGV testing – with no drivers able to take the test, we now have a chronic shortage of HGV drivers and we now have the army on standby to provide 2000 drivers to keep our supermarket shelves stocked, though that would probably not help given we have 100,000 drivers missing! I am delighted that the government is reaching in to expand the availability of undergraduate medical places; this is an area of acute rationing the government has managed for years, preferring to recruit the bulk of its missing doctors from other countries around the world. Frankly, that’s its own scandal now, and we need to leave other countries’ leading medics to build their own countries and permit many more of our own nationals to qualify instead.

If next year is to normalise, and see the reintroduction of examinations, then so be it. It’s fair to say we will be as ready for that in 2022 as any, because our teachers always seek to bring the best out of our pupils, whatever the circumstances prevailing at the time. But schools and colleges will give exam boards and government fair warning too; you left us very much to our own devices for 2 years, informing us consistently at the last minute of new matters we had to implement and all at our cost not yours. We are now as aware as we ever have been of the capabilities and capacities of our children as learners, and we’d like to see a reintroduction of a fairer rationing system for the awarding of grades aligned with our efforts this year, namely using grade related criteria rather than % rationing. That’s a whole other technical paper, but for the moment I’ll return to the driving test as best example. When someone passes a driving test, it’s because they have met the criteria for safe and effective driving. None of us would agree to a system that demanded only 55% of those sitting the test on any given day were permitted to pass – if the driver is good enough, they should be graded accordingly!

And finally, it is worth just remarking that our students of 2021 have made an incredible job of winning their pandemic year; shorn of their celebrations, sporting and social opportunities, they have really got stuck in to all those elements that were available, including their school work. More generally, we’ve seen reading flourish, and a welcome growth of interest in craft and domestic skills for life, and more than that a willingness and openness to rise to the challenge! And as that’s why I came into education in the first place, and why I am still committed to the teaching profession, willing myself to treat every day as a school day, one serving up a new lesson to learn from.

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Principal’s Last Word – Summer Term 2021

At the close of our Academic Year, 2020-2021, whether in-school or via remote broadcasting, we have been able to celebrate the high points  (where such language is appropriate during a pandemic!) and contributions of our school, its pupils and teachers alike. In writing to bring this strangest of school years to a close, I do so with my colleagues in the faculty first and foremost to mind. 

Claires Court is an incredibly settled workplace, in part because your children make every day worthwhile working, and in part because as a school philosophy, we aim to place children at the heart of everything, which brings their joy to mind because of that clear focus we must have. Opportunities for further staff development is also one of the core values for colleagues working here, whether that of the mundane kind to gather workplace skills and qualifications to do the job at hand, or of the more far reaching kind leading to graduation, qualified teacher status, Advanced diplomas and Masters beyond, and we are proud to have supported 19 colleagues over the past 12 months. The contribution that such trainees make along the way could not be better exemplified than by Poonam Bharj, George Grose, Emily Pridham or Jess Hurter, completing first degrees, and their subsequent PGCEs etc whilst working at Claires Court, now making a huge impact as front line teachers in the school.

Head of Senior Boys Art, Frances Ackland Snow completed her Advanced Diploma in Therapeutic Application of the Arts and Huw Buckle,  Deputy Head Careers & Innovation fittingly completed his Masters in Education in good time, enabling his next career step into Pastoral Leadership in September. 

In bidding farewell to our staff who leave Claires Court this summer, for some we wish them well in their future careers elsewhere and to others we wish them our very best wishes for the choices they’ve made to retire from teaching. There are 3 standout names to celebrate across the school community, because of their length of service with us across the organisation, because of the support they have given to literally thousands of children in their time with us and because of the impact they have had on the wider school community because of their support for what we love and cherish as a family school. 

First honours go to our Head of Common Room, Mike Miller, who joined the school as a parent back in 1989, and then became our Head of Business Studies through the 90’s prior to the corporate world taking him to South Africa for 3 years before making his return back into post. Not only did that see his wife Liz join our nursery team, but it gave us son Gareth back, initially as student, and then after higher education and employment elsewhere as teacher and now of course Head of Year 7. That sense of family is completed when I record that Gareth’s sister Michelle Coghlan is a leading member of our science faculty and both sets of grandchildren (for Mike that is) are now pupils in the school. Mike’s ongoing links to the Business world as Chair of the Maidenhead and District Chamber of Commerce continue to be of huge value, and we wish Mike and Liz every happiness in their retirement, well deserved after the 32 years they have given to Claires Court.

Departing also into retirement at Junior Boys is Judy Knott, Deputy Head Junior Boys and great support for Dean Richards as Head as well as for the staff and pupils more generally of course. No more fitting epitaph for Mrs Knott written in recent weeks than this by Justin Spanswick, our Executive headteacher. “…a huge thank you to my former Deputy Head and wonderful friend, Mrs Judy Nott. When I moved into Headship at Junior Boys, she was the one who kept me on the straight and narrow, and she ran the school while I learned what I was meant to be doing!” 

Whilst my wife, Jenny will never be able to retire completely whilst I am still at work, she steps down from leading our History department after first picking up the mantle in 1981. Working with Jenny over that 40 year period I have seen the subject flourish and lead our ‘hands-on’ education philosophy all the way through. The department’s legendary residentials, including through the 1990s to Washington and Williamsburg, Virginia, to Berlin more recently, to Ironbridge and Shropshire for the Industrial Revolution and for the past 20 years to the Ypres Salient for GCSE studies, have all given great opportunities to students. A hallmark of her imaginative planning included the use of museums to enrich teaching and learning, from Slavery through the Industrial Revolution to the Cold War and whilst Victorian crime was on the syllabus, Friday night time ‘Jack the Ripper’ walks were perhaps the highlight trip never to be forgotten! 

Our other colleagues departing into well deserved retirement are Liz Robinson (English – 20 years) and Sue Lattimer (French – 16 years), 2 other great teachers of the school whose impact at Senior Girls and in Sixth Form over 2 decades was equally impressive and valuable for those they taught. Of those leaving for  pastures new in September, I particularly commend Charlie Bretherton, currently deputy head pastoral to become Headteacher of Hillview International, a senior school in Malawi, To our other fabulous colleagues, Will Ansell (Sciences), Georgie Carter (PE), George Grose (Juniors), Katie Morgan (Juniors), Dorelle Scott (Maths), Philly Shelley-Smith (Art) and Clive Young (Physics) who are departing for new continents, new challenges and opportunities, we wish you the very best of fortunes ahead.

I am now able to take a break for 2 weeks before the announcement of 2021 A Level and GCSE results. Unlike last year when all was left to the last minute, I am delighted to report that our exam evidence has been scrutinised by the Exam boards, our sites visited by JCQ and results as provided to the boards back in June have been approved. Hopefully that will mean results days (digitally by email and portal) on Tuesday 10 August and Thursday 12 August will run smoothly, and once that work of 2020/21 is complete, I can begin to look forward to the academic year ahead where perhaps the landscape won’t be utterly riven by Covid-19. Builders, decorators and electricians have already moved in on all three sites, our planning team continue to work on our new campus and playing field proposals, of which we will surface further thoughts and developments in the autumn. 

In the meantime, thank you for all of your good wishes and kind thoughts. We cannot remotely have achieved everything for everyone this last 12 months, but wherever located, my colleagues and their teams have continued to work with great respect and integrity, and your support has been incredible throughout. Whether you are able to get away, be that Costa Maidenhead or on holiday elsewhere, have a good one and #staysafe.

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“Good grief” said Charlie Brown. It’s taken me sometime, and now I totally get that.

As a child of the ‘Sixties, my emerging take on the landscape of adolescence and life were of course largely shaped by my life at school, boarding as I did with lots of other children, often as many as 30, in a house owned by my parents. It was an all-boys boarding house for the school my parents founded in 1960, and our ‘social’ existence was shaped by the playground, the opportunity to cycle to and from school, out and about with the other fulltime boarders out and about at the weekend, Mass on Sundays at St Joseph’s in Maidenhead, TV and…

…’Peanuts’, a comic strip drawn by Charles M Schulz, which featured a small boy, Charlie Brown and with whom I identified immediately, Snoopy the beagle dog, local girl Lucy and all sorts of other characters.

I never want to suggest anything other about my childhood other than that it was happy. It’s interesting though to recall that it was an innocent childhood for example, at a time of less-than-more in terms of consumerism, and when much, if not all, we read, saw and watched was in black and white. Colour TV broadcasting didn’t start until ’69, and I can’t really remember dreaming in colour because my consciousness had not appreciated its presence in my limited attention span for what was important then. The cartoon strips I read throughout this period were black-ink-on-paper, as life was more generally of course!

I quote from Wikipedia: “Charlie Brown is characterized as a person who frequently suffers, and as a result, is usually nervous and lacks self-confidence. He shows both pessimistic and optimistic attitudes: on some days, he is reluctant to go out because his day might just be spoiled, but on others, he hopes for the best and tries as much as he can to accomplish things.” It’s so true, almost to this day for so many of us, not least because the events of the last 18 pandemic months, we have truly learned to fear to hope.

One repeating episode through ‘Peanuts’ was Charlie Brown’s efforts to kick a football, and throughout such storylines, just as he moved to kick a football proffered by his friend Lucy, she would pull it away at the moment of impact. Schulz was asked when he was moving to retirement whether he was going to permit Charlie to actually make contact after 50 years, he replied “…permitting Charlie Brown to succeed in kicking a football would do a disservice to the character”. And yet just a little later in retirement Schulz realized to his sadness that he had consigned Charlie Brown to never get to kick the football ever in his lifetime.

A second eternal image of Charlie Brown’s thinking I copy below. How many others of us feel like this too?

Pin on Yep, that's me !!

Having set out my stall, and along the way introduced you to CB, I’d like to move into the current technicolour world of always-on global media, in which of course ‘Peanuts’ is alive and well and can apparently be reprised endlessly on YouTube. 40+ years of headship often tells us that ‘what goes around, comes around’ and perhaps where experience and repeated practice translates into what other’s might call wisdom. My view is that I have just had the luck of having a good memory, and because of same, I do assure you that actually, ‘nothing is the same’ though as with the human genome (real or cartoon), there are very many close similarities, so spotting the ‘variants’ as situations have evolved to break through our armour and defences is an important feature of modern day school leadership.

To this end, I invite you to watch Nora McInerny’s inspiring TEDWomen 2018 talk posted 2 years ago. Nora says it frankly – she makes a living talking to people about life’s hardest moments, and she should know, losing twins, a father and a husband back in one month, October 2014.

Please take time to process what Nora talks us through, both the narrative of her story and the attendant emotions. Because of the immediacy of modern comms, she can not only bring us up to speed quickly on the triple tragedy she faced but also lead us through her subsequent journey. 50 years ago, storytellers did not have that privilege, and perhaps it shows in so far as so many ghastly secrets stayed buried for so long. But I doff my hat off to both story tellers, ancient and modern, because they both told me things I needed to listen to. And honestly, in the person of Charlie Brown, I identified with a boy of his times, and from whom I learned so much. And what did Lucy give me? A love of psychology, which is what I went to Uni to pursue, if only to understand the multiple psyches on show across Peanuts. Thank you Charles M Schulz, I owe you my career in education.

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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

THE VERY BEST OF H.G. WELLS SHORT STORIES eBook: H.G. WELLS: Amazon.co.uk:  Kindle Store

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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