Lessons from History – what learning looks like some 100 years on.

Last weekend, 40 boys and girls from Year 10 spent 2 days on the Ypres Salient in Belgium. It’s difficult to emphasise just what an important experience this is for any person, in part because the lies from their leaders, the sheer waste of life and the impartial injustice to all are so starkly evident. Their visit included:

  • visiting the UEFA memorial battlefield site of the famous Xmas 1914 fraternisation between Tommy and the Boche, where Christmas gifts were exchanged and we lost on penalties to the Germans in umpteen impromptu games of football;
  • sitting in the Hooge crater area, learning about the bravery of the 175th Tunnelling company whose gallery excavations covered 58m, where they exploded 2 huge bombs to literally undermine the enemy;
  • conducting a headstone survey at Tyne Cot cemetery, the resting place of 11,954 soldiers of the Commonwealth Forces – this is the largest number of burials contained in any Commonwealth cemetery of either the First or Second World War, and the largest Commonwealth military cemetery in the world;
  • following the lives of some known individuals of the First World war period through the ‘In Flanders’ Field‘ museum;
  • attending the Last Post ceremony (our 4 in the last quartet) and laying a wreath in respect for all the fallen, including those former pupils of Maidenhead College, whose names are on the Menin Gate where the service takes place;
  • visiting the trenches and exploring the use of military equipment at the Passchendaele Museum;
  • contrasting commonwealth war memorials with those of the German allies at Langemark cemetery;
  • appreciating and understanding the horror of a gas attack at the advanced field dressing station at Essex farm;
  • visiting the Lijssenthoek military hospital site at Poperinge, learning more about Triage, battlefield dressings and the care of the wounded during this period, whilst also appreciating that so many other nationalities lost their lives in and shortly the Great War.

Throughout the 2 days, we were accompanied by Warrant Officer Richie Parsons, now a territorial medical officer but accompanying school trips to add detailed factual accuracy and exemplar kit demonstrations at our many stops over the 2 days. Below you can see some a collage given a sense of our learning experience over the 2 days.

Ypres Collage 2018

Ypres Collage 2018b

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It’s been a long time coming, this end-of-winter-2017/18.

For those very few that await my weekly blog, they’ll have noticed that it went missing this Lent 2018. That’s not to suggest the choice was not deliberate, it’s just that the good Christian in me always reminds me that you are not supposed to wear your sackcloth-and-ashes and moan about them, merely to suffer in silence. Well, now that we are past Maundy Thursday, I can confirm that not only did I stop my blog but I stopped my ‘beer’ as well. After a very genuine 40 days in the desert plus an additional no-beer-on-Sundays-rule, I can say I feel very pleased with myself, and for 2 reasons:

  1. I can take a season of not writing and not drinking without much pain, … and secondly
  2. I no longer feel the need for beer.

However, it’s time to restart the blog, and this Easter break has seen the re-emergence of the ‘Woodpecker’ press, keen to dig out any little soundbite and amplify it to spread doom, gloom and disenchantment.  Try this headline from a recent teachers’ conference, amplified by most of the nationals “Private school parents think they are ‘buying’ exam success for their children, teachers’ leader says”.

The Teacher’s leader mentioned, Dr Mary Bousted of the ATL certainly does not lead me, and the quotes she attributes to teachers are not ones I hear in my staff room. Education is its own industry, regarded by central government as sitting alongside Care and Health. Parents pay tuition fees to my school for an educational offer that includes tuition in core academic areas but in addition education of the ‘whole’ child.  Our offer does include smaller class size, an extended teaching day, additional extra-curricular activities and other imaginative and often innovative ways of bringing learning to life and making it relevant for the pupils we serve.

Of course, parents will have very high expectations of us to provide as promised, and that’s wholly reasonable.  But parents who join Claires Court buy into an offer of aims, values and accountability that often means their children won’t be tested to the hilt and unnecessarily examined. Our pupils will not take part in the Standardised Assessment tests (SATs) that state school pupils are required to take aged 7 and 11, and have to do so for over a decade. At secondary level, our pupils are not given ‘notional’ floor standards against which their progress as learners is measured year on year to age 16, as their state counterparts are given. This statistical exercise, against which children and then used by DfE and Ofsted to determine whether the school has been successful as an institution, or whether it is ‘coasting’, ‘requires improvement’ or ‘inadequate’ embraces a toxic methodology which our sector has not only discounted but actually cannot play any part in, even if we wished.

Anyway back to the headline, what on earth is anyone to gain from making public some private grief shared, as if it were evidence of national discord? Answer, it fits the national press narrative to spread division and gloom, a mood that can only be changed by clicking on the adverts that surround the story.  Try it yourself with the Daily Telegraph on-line story – in my case it directs me to buy Gin from Lidl, find perfect ‘powder’ for skiing, check whether I qualify for PPI and … a link to another article set to spread despondency amongst parents choosing private school, entitled “Eccentric, overpriced and entitled: the former High Master of St Paul’s on how Britain’s public schools must change.” The Daily Mail version invites me to take a punt with the Euro lottery, take out a new mortagage or…well, you choose, I couldn’t possibly.

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April Fools day Post from The Learning Scientists – GUEST POST: How to Study Poorly


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“Teaching’s not rocket science – it’s more complex than that!” – Rachel Jackson

Amongst the busy life I lead as a school principal, leader, counsellor, mentor and blogger, I also teach classes, currently some Year 8 History and Year 9 Spanish. It’s important to note I have always taught, secondary and sixth form it must be said, in order to validate some of the decisions I have had  to make over past years.  It’s one thing to know the theory, quite another to have the experience to understand how that might roll out in practice.  When the Chartered College of Teaching opened 12 months ago, I became a founding member, because I am utterly convinced that Teaching is a unique profession, not just an extension of business or commercial activity.

Rachel Jackson, from the Institute of Education at John Moores University in Liverpool writes under this headline in today’s Impact magazine from the College. Rachel’s quite right about the activity of teaching being that complex, and not the first from our profession. Here’s Lee Shulman,  an American educational psychologist, widely quoted on the difficulty of Teaching.

Lee Shulman

Here’s Rachel writing further: “It must be remembered that education was considered a discipline of philosophy at first but due to the desire to find ultimate answers to questions of pedagogy, it was thought best to view education scientifically. This ‘big R’ Research, as Goswami and Stillman put it, was seen as inadequate if teachers are not granted the space to think carefully about the implications. Over 30 years on, are we philosophers or technicians?

The dominance of the ‘science of learning’ reinforces the perception that teaching is merely a technical endeavour but, as Cochran-Smith and Lytle  maintain, it is so much more than this and ‘practitioners are legitimate knowers and knowledge generators, not just implementers of others’ knowledge’. Winch et al.  see teaching as consisting of tacit understandings and reflective thinking as well as technical information but surmised that until teachers are given the space and the capacity to think deeply about the evidence they are bombarded with, teachers cannot be philosophical. As Ball, Maguire and Braun put it, teachers remain ‘ciphers’ who merely ‘implement’.”

Over the last 5 days since our return from half-term, those I work with have noticed I have been a little vexed. Obviously, with the new Campus proposals and consultations underway, pressure groups and their arguments to consider, I have a whole new wall of work to consider. We’ve also had 2 Year 11 parents evenings to handle this week, discussing exam possibilities as well as future destinations with some 100 families and the young people concerned. We had over 160 children involved in our Scholarship examinations, so I have had all those cases to consider, as well as those applicants in contention for Sixth Form award as well. With some of my leadership ill or injured too, there have been additional parents consultations to attend and monitor, and of course the daily ‘Russian Roulette’ of school life brings its unexpected experiences too. Late on Wednesday evening, I needed to act as paramedic, accompanying one of our older pupils home in their mother’s car for example.

None of the above vexed me.

Prior to half-term, I had been asked to read a manuscript of a new book on Childhood and parenting, to provide feedback and perhaps a ‘quote’. Since the book has yet to be published, it’s title is confidential, but the 6 authors are coworkers in one of the psychology services we use. Mothers as well as clinical psychologists, these current practitioners have chosen to write in depth, giving pen-portraits of case histories, about the children under the age of 11 they have been working with in recent years. The book is over 300 pages long, and the contents are a page-turner. I’ve already replied in draft with my quote: “This is a remarkable book; it is packed with wisdom from expert practitioners whilst at the same time illustrated with case examples that highlight very specific strategies for successful therapeutic interventions that parents will recognise straight away.  The writing exudes empathy from the 6 authors, everyone a mother and still working on getting it right for their own children”.

What vexes me is that I never knew being a parent was so hard, and on reading through the very many case notes in the book, we obviously had it so very easy when bringing up our own children. Equally vexing is that I recognise the exemplars in so many of the cases I and my colleagues in leadership are dealing with each day. We are facing an epidemic of mental health issues in our schools in England and mine is certainly not immune from the crisis. National statistics suggest that 1 in 10 of our children are suffering from a diagnosable mental health disorder, that’s over 100 children at Claires Court, 2 in every class at any one time. Those individual mental health issues may be resolved, but of course those unseen at an early age in others will rise up to take their place.

I have tried my utmost to ensure that we have both the qualified staff and expertise/experience in place to manage the daily issues that confront teachers and parents in the daily care of their children, to ensure we are so much more than ciphers implementing from a cue-card. What’s so comforting about the writing of the 6 clinical psychologists (coming from healthcare) and of researchers such as Rachel Jackson (coming from educational research) is that both confirm the sheer complexity of what we in teaching have to do each day, and that there are sources of confirmed knowledge and proven therapeutic pathways that will keep teachers and parents able to manage well the daily challenges they face…which I repeat are “As challenging as in an emergency room during a natural disaster”.  

Let me finish on a hopeful note. Almost everything a parent naturally does to provide for their children is intuitive, and most get this right. A baby needs an adult nearby whenever they need them, to comfort, console, secure and care. Readily available parents, and as we are proxies to this, teachers too, are able to provide physical reassurance to help children feel safe, and by being consistent in such support allows children to learn how to calm themselves. What is less obvious to parents as their children get older is that that need for a place of safety does not get less, and this is not just about ‘space’ in a physical sense, but also of that in time. Being together, not making all of life the treadmill that some days feel, keeping blame away and keeping hope in conversation alive and eternal is the way forward.  As we all age, what next has to be done is not quite so intuitive and automatic.  Telling children not to worry is often the worst thing that can be said, as is expecting that learning is linear and there won’t be serious hurdles along the way.  It should be no surprise that in really effective schools, mental health matters are pre-eminent, because the children do feel safe and able to surface their worries and cares. That does not mean that every child needs clinical interventions, but it does mean that those of us with responsibility must (and do) consider these as serious options. And it means I need to get to know my pupils well, and that’s why I need to be in the classroom, so I keep that particular skill ‘honed’.

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10 Year since “Man the lifeboats. The idiots are winning”; have we made progress?

Back in April 2018, Charlie Booker wrote this headline piece in The Guardian newspaper:

Charlie BrookerMan the lifeboats. The idiots are winning. Last week I watched, open-mouthed, a Newsnight piece on the spread of “Brain Gym” in British schools. I’d read about Brain Gym before – a few years back, in Ben Goldacre’s excellent Bad Science column for this newspaper – but seeing it in action really twisted my rage dial.

Brain Gym, y’see, is an “educational kinesiology” programme designed to improve kiddywink performance. It’s essentially a series of simple exercises lumbered with names that make you want to steer a barbed wire bus into its creator’s face. One manoeuvre, in which you massage the muscles round the jaw, is called the “energy yawn”. Another involves activating your “brain buttons” by forming a “C” shape with one hand and pressing it either side of the collarbone while simultaneously touching your stomach with the other hand.

Throughout the report I was grinding my teeth and shaking my head – a movement I call a “dismay churn”. Not because of the sickening cutesy-poo language, nor because I’m opposed to the nation’s kids being forced to exercise (make them box at gunpoint if you want) but because I care about the difference between fantasy and reality, both of which are great in isolation, but, like chalk and cheese or church and state, are best kept separate.
Honestly, the whole article is worth the read – https://goo.gl/EitPrw , and the comments that follow, though its audience is of the adult variety.

So what progress has been made over the last decade then? Firstly, Brain Gym, Learning styles, Multiple Intelligences, Left/right brain learners and other learning science neuro-myths have slowly and steadily been debunked, though probably not quickly enough to prevent too many schools wasting teachers and children’s time on them.  The basis of these neuromyths have been well intentioned; Howard Gardner in his work on multiple intelligences wasn’t trying to invent a new way of teaching, rather than debunk the post-war simplistic approach that advocated that brains could be trained to do anything.  Here’s Gardner writing back in 1993, 10 years after his seminal book Frames of mind. The theory of multiple intelligences was published: In the heyday of the psychometric and behaviorist eras, it was generally believed that intelligence was a single entity that was inherited; and that human beings – initially a blank slate – could be trained to learn anything, provided that it was presented in an appropriate way. Nowadays an increasing number of researchers believe precisely the opposite; that there exists a multitude of intelligences, quite independent of each other; that each intelligence has its own strengths and constraints; that the mind is far from unencumbered at birth; and that it is unexpectedly difficult to teach things that go against early ‘naive’ theories of that challenge the natural lines of force within an intelligence and its matching domains. (Gardner 1993: xxiii)

It’s easy with the wisdom of hindsight to work out how some in the ‘education gig economy’ thought you could just parcel up mini-packages of the above and peddle how a specific intelligence might be more rapidly developed.

Likewise, once those dramatic colour images of the human brain in action started Moral maze: advances in neurosurgery are often the result of risk-takingappearing alongside articles on cognitive science, it was amazing just how many myths re-emerged around whole brain/left brain/right brain learning.  That’s not to say that we don’t have different parts of our brain processing different things in different ways, but there are far too many interconnected neurons for us to imagine the bits don’t speak to each other at lightning speed. We’ve know from the very many head injuries endured by soldiers in wartime that damage in different areas causes irreversible damage to specific functions such as speech and sight, but we also know from the remarkable recoveries made by some that the very nature of the brain’s make up enables it to adjust and repair – this is called neuroplasticity, and actually we rely upon this in schools because the whole nature of a child’s growing development through education relies on the basis that neural connections can be made and remade. Here’s the dictionary definition of same:

  1. the ability of the brain to form and reorganize synaptic connections, especially in response to learning or experience or following injury.
    “neuroplasticity offers real hope to everyone from stroke victims to dyslexics”

It’s not just the neuromyths that have needed debunking.  Technology has once again been touted as our saviour, this time in order to equip ourselves for life in the “21st century”.  Here’s leading thinker on education matters and government behaviour czar, Tom Bennett on that “You hear people say that children must have iPads in order to be 21st century learners, but when you look at the research that tries to substantiate this claim, it’s normally written by iPad manufacturers and technology zealots, and that’s fine, but don’t pretend it’s research,” he says. “Children don’t have the time to waste on that rubbish, especially poor children.”

The profession has been led by people such as Bennett, and research organisations such as the Education Endowment Foundation, who have clamoured for government to ensure that educational change is led by well-rehearsed scientifically endorsed programmes of study. It’s not just Brain-gym adoption that has let this country, the States and many other parts of the west down; whole swathes of the world have been force-fed linear learning and achievement levels up through which children should be marched and by which schools’ efficacy can be judged by government inspectors. The entire English National curriculum has needed to be torn down since 2008, because it was built on such well-intentioned thinking, with no research basis to back it up.

Here in England, we’ve seen the wholesale scrapping of the assessment mechanism using coursework, ‘controlled’ assessments and modular examinations for both GCSE and A levels, again because of the well-intentioned approach that children should be validated by what they achieve along the way as well as by that which can be passed in a terminal examination at the end of a 2 year period.  The first major problem that the above brought was the inevitable grade inflation that came with this approach, that being, if the subjects and courses become more accessible to children by way of the validation systems of assessment, then more children will achieve and succeed at the highest level. The second major problem that arose was that ‘higher achievement’ did not mean successful ‘skill acquisition and embedding’, such that a C grade pass in English and Maths did not mean the successful graduates were literate or numerate.

We are now in the new, brave tomorrow where all skills needed to be kept practiced and alive over a 2 year period , so that on assessment day the successful student can demonstrate that they have all the skills and knowledge at their disposal, and to be honest, so long as the terminal question papers are appropriately tailored, it’s likely good schools will be able to enable and empower just as many of its learners as hitherto to success.  The courses are deeper, richer and encourage time for thinking and personal research, because they are not being constantly interrupted by their own or other subject’s assessments.

So now the old myths have gone, what are the new ones emerging?

Firstly the most obvious one is that the general requirement for schools to have a much more academic and rigorous approach (in order that England can rise up the PISA tables, provide better students for the economy, now and the future). This is being translated by proxy into a narrowing of subject disciplines from the age of 5, and with children being identified as falling behind from the very start.  The use of assessment to determine whether children are making progress assumes that education is the ‘filling of a pail’.  Now I get that, so that so long as I can measure the depth of water in the pail, and ensure that a child’s learning keeps up, then those ‘falling behind’ can be spotted and chivvied along. The trouble is, whilst we can measure the depth of water, that’s not a proxy for the ‘depth of learning’. WB Yates reminded of this with his illusion that ‘Education is not the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire’, and it is so much harder to measure the latter.

One new parent to our school with a 7 year old spoke to me on Wednesday afternoon about the difference her son’s experience of education was since changing schools. “In his last school, all he did all  day was write”, and when I picked him up each day, he seemed exhausted by the experience, the day dragging interminably from  one writing experience to the next.  Here, the school day is 2 hours longer, and it seems to whistle by, because he has so many different things to do, such a wide variety of learning experiences to enjoy. ” Now that’s one way to measure the lighting of a fire, anecdotal of course and not easily put into a league table.

As austerity bites, so many of the broader programmes of study are being replaced by narrow, writing-only based disciplines in state schools. Many headteachers and schools are shouting the odds about this, and making a serious fuss, but others are gently pressing forward and seeking to become ‘Ofsted – outstandin’, by focussing on the progress grades achieved by those children in a narrow range of subjects and gently ‘losing’ the children that are not sufficiently compliant to this narrowing of approach.

Schools minister Nick Gibb

Spot the narrowing visible in the now ‘required’ English Baccalaureate; English, English Literature, Maths, sciences (inc computer science), History/Geography, an MFL and one other. “A multimillion pound investment in music and arts education will help hundreds of thousands of young people from all backgrounds enjoy potentially life changing cultural activities, Schools Minister Nick Gibb announced today (18 November 2016).

Over the next 4 years the government will provide £300 million to a network of 121 music education hubs to work with schools, local authorities and community organisations to get more young people taking part in music and arts.  Music hubs help hundreds of thousands of 5- to 18-year-olds each year access activities like playing an instrument, singing in a choir or joining a band. Today’s announcement will allow them to reach even more pupils.”

Previously, this was funded in some 25,000 state schools, so you can see why the subject of Music is in such danger now, because schools can point to the new ‘hubs’ and suggest that this activity is no longer part of their core business.  Art, Drama, Design/Food Technology, Music and RS are now in danger of disappearing as school competitive sporting provision has done before, because the priority for an academic education sanctions their ‘departure’.

Secondly, there is a gentle permissioning of parents to give up on their children, because parenting has become ‘harder’. This needs both careful consideration and checking, because whilst for individual adults of any generation, parenting can be made harder because of partner separation, work challenges and the like, the data doesn’t actually show this over time. Simple measures such as infant mortality have crashed more then tenfold over the last 100 years. There are though many challenges now, cheap junk food, glamour accessories and easy access to technology contributing to an affordable adolescent lifestyle that’s difficult to combat when at the same time children are surrounded by advertisement that empowers them to expect freedom and access to the above.  School can be a very successful antidote to this.

What’s not a myth is that schools play a central part in a child’s life, and adults therein are likely to spend more time with the children than the parents are able to.  As other parts of our welfare state aae squeezed to look after the aging end of our society, so schools need to offer more opportunities not less for the child as they pass through education.  It’s easier for these centres of excellence in understanding and managing children to do so than suggest a wider society should try harder. In just the same way that more GPs in a community leads in the longer term for hospitals and care homes to become less busy, so research-led schools that cover more of the education space will led to a safer society and better educated community.

All we need now is for the numbers of uniformed police to be increased once more. Whilst I have to accept that there are many more crimes now to be committed on-line, so that space needs care, I also know just how important it is to have school liaison officers who work locally and get known in all the schools. As with school nurses,  it’s not good enough to spread them so thinly that they are invisible.  And that’s no myth here RBWM, where there are no longer any police officers assigned to the role. RIP

And in 2018, that’s idiotic, whatever the cause.




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The Confidentiality paradox…

Confidentiality trust

Image courtesy of Caremark

As ever within Claires Court School, it has been a busy week. And that for week beginning Monday 22 January is more than just an understatement!
3 things in the public arena plus 1 inspection visit from out of the blue have a nasty habit of blowing you off line…or could of course, if the good ship CC didn’t have the most amazing crew of adults and children.
Item 1 of 4
Let’s go with the Independent Schools Inspection to start with…
Claires Court was last inspected in March 2014, so since last March ’17 we have been expecting our next inspection, as is the legal requirement parliament has placed upon DfE and their agent inspector organisations.
Claires Court sits alongside our nearest neighbour schools of Eton, Herries, Highfield, Redroofs, St. Pirans, and Wycombe Abbey (depending upon age/stage) as a member of the Independent Schools Council, so the DfE inspection framework for our schools is managed by the Independent Schools Inspectorate*.
When I say ‘we were inspected out of the blue’, that’s not quite the case.  We have been awaiting a phone call every Monday; my HoD History and wife takes a much more pragmatic view about schedules and calendars. “Just don’t answer the phone on Monday morning, James” she says each weekend knowingly. “As ISI only ring on Monday, that’s your permanent get out of jail card”.
My very good friend and colleague in leadership, Justin Spanswick, works like me as an Inspector within ISI, in addition to leadership within Claires Court. His best guess for our next was actually last March to the day, mine was 1 week less than 4 years; so since that first ‘failed’ guess by JMS, the reality is, I have spent every Sunday for 46 weeks polishing up our data so that ‘if we were rung 9am Monday, we’d be good to go. And pretty much every Monday morning, circa 9.15 Justin has checked by email or text;”Have we been rung?”.
Monday 22 January will go down in the annals of CC’s move to internet telephony as the day the internet broke our phones. Sadly, ISI still got through despite that break, circa 9.15 to let me know we were to be inspected this week. So much for Mrs Wilding’s cunning plan.
Fast forward to Thursday evening, the ISI team have come and gone, and as ever we are sworn to confidentiality on the outcomes. The visit has gone brilliantly well, the pupils and parents have responded magnificently in over a thousand responses to the ISI questionnaire, the inspectors work is done, and we now await our inspection report to share with you. Confidentiality on outcomes is assured in the meantime.
Item 2 of 4
The Claires Court planning application is in, and we are beginning to gather momentum CCcampus2this week. Inevitably, we are watching the reactions of those within RBWM who are developing their own opinions, and why not? We are a free and democratic country, and planning law permits this process of public scrutiny and exploration of views. The Maidenhead Advertiser letters’ column and other social media seem to have commenced casting me as a ‘pantomime villain’ and I know, and am so strongly advised by others, that I will for the time remain being ‘ever thus’. ‘Enjoy the moment and move on’ they say, because the application we have made is so very much more detailed than a few soundbytes in confidential email heaven. At the time of writing, it seems important to emphasise that our application be read in detail, to comprehend its contents and genuinely understand the seriousness of our intent. In the meantime, I am sworn to confidentiality, and to say nothing more; the school has made its case in detailed written form, and it is for those who wish to take an interest to read our case and consider their conclusions.

Item 3 of 4.

Today sees the latest publication of the DfE’s aggregation of exam results for both GCSE and A level. Suffice it to say that the DfE analysis is shared with us for 24 hours, before they break cover with its outcomes on the BBC, other news and media channels. We are sworn to secrecy… “there must be no break in confidentiality”, yet as dear reader you will spot therein, that trio of secondary independent schools I mention are all NP in the GCSE tables, and as for A level this year, seem too to be cast adrift with nonsensical data.

‘Baffling for parents’ is how Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, describes the secondary school performance tables; they cannot be compared with previous years because the government had “once again moved the goalposts”. Honestly, the publication is baffling to schools too!

At GCSE level, Claires Court is so erroneously reported, it’s beyond a joke. For example, our GCSE scientists in the main pursue ‘triple award science’, the papers being identical to the separate qualifications of Physics, Chemistry and Biology, but which ‘title’ of award you receive depends on timing and choice of ‘tick in the box’ framework. Many schools like us do not want children to give up on the science they don’t like, which they could by ‘downing tools’ on the separate subject award, so by going ‘triple’, it forces the child to buckle down and study for all three GCSE disciplines (Biology, Chemistry, Physics). This year, DfE rewards the alternative – you get credit for acquiring a C or higher grade in Physics, Chemistry or Biology separately, but whilst your triple award pathway is opening up all routes to A level and University Science degree, it registers ZERO on the DfE scale.

It’s the same at A level – just go look at Buckinghamshire, and it becomes very obvious that the better your pupils have done at GCSE, the worse they will gain as value-added at A level. In short, we can keep the outcomes of the DfE analysis confidential for 24 hours, but now they are released, it’s obvious that there was little point in requiring confidentiality because the ‘data published’ is simply ‘junk.

Item 4 of 4

Schools work within the ‘Health and Care’ system, and inevitably, our experience of the emergency care offered by the NHS is amazing, whether that be for children or staff. We’ve had three unfortunate major RTAs within the school community within the last fortnight, with the cars written off. It’s not appropriate for me to go into any detail, though in short, other drivers unlicensed or insured have been involved in the mayhem.  Fortunately, those involved are alive and well, thank you.  Creating a ‘safer’ society on the road always include education, and our Sixth Form attend the ‘Safe Drive, Stay Alive’ show every year to be informed, shocked and we hope educated to drive safely and be insured. The attendees this time round were handed a sealable cloth bag to hide their phone in, which prevents signal reaching the phone and distracting the driver. That’s an important innovation we could all think about acquiring moving beyond education and emergency care, the other health and care services are beginning to struggle to such an extent, that even when required care pathways are identified, the timescale for the commencement of support are stretching way into the future. I can’t tell you any of the details here, but at every age and stage we manage on a weekly bases cases of considerable need. Perhaps one of the biggest changes our school has wrought since the last inspection has been the introduction of our fully qualified school nursing staff, together with nationally recognised first aid training ‘school’ they can run for us. This last fortnight has seen all of our contracting coach company drivers receive updated training in safeguarding from our school nurses, because the local authorities no longer necessarily offer this service in a timely manner.

At the end of one of the busiest weeks ever, I am proud of all my staff in equal measure, but I give particular praise to the school nurses for their imaginative and professional solution-finding in a time of such challenge, and to our Administration and HR department, for working so hard to find the right kind of staff and solutions that support the school’s key values and ensuring that we stay safe in all that we do.


“Proud of the Badge”


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Destination: PISA or ITALY for our children in schools?

Over recent years, the attention given by governments and the media to the outcomes from the international PISA assessments has become pretty intense. These assessments take place every three years, and their focus on the skills of 15 year olds covers Maths, Science and Reading, the latter being the focus for 2018. You can read more here – https://fullfact.org/education/what-you-dont-find-out-about-englands-educational-performance-pisa-league-table/

The English national focus has been on the achievements of both 10/11 and 15/16 year olds (Years 6 and 11), looking at the examination outcomes for English and Maths, and for Year 11 also to include 6 other subjects, one of which could be Literature, the others focussed on 2 sciences, 1/2 humanities, an MFL and one other (known as the EBACC). For state schools completing at the end of Year 6, the SATS outcomes for pupils dominate how the schools themselves are viewed by their inspectorate, Ofsted.  For state secondary pupils, getting the mix of subjects right has also become part of the judgment measure, to ensure the highest score in these 8 subjects to measure progress against the EBACC measure, more of that here.

Over the past 3 years, it’s become very apparent that performance in this explicit DfE measures has become an obsession for most state schools, because they have no opt out and they are judged against their performance as a school by the outcomes in these subjects.  The national and educational media, coupled with Institutes of Education across the country are reporting a groundswell of dissatisfaction of the consequences of this relentless focus to drive up standards so our state school pupils perform  better in comparison with other countries. Some schools are disapplying their weakest pupils as quickly as possible to get them ‘off roll’, others are shutting down the teaching of all other subjects other than English and Maths in the final year of primary school, whilst at secondary school, subjects as diverse as Art, Drama, Music, RS, Technology and Sport are seeing numbers of pupils and teachers spiralling downwards as the subjects don’t carry the same value for the educational league table, if at all.

From pedagogical, philosophical and social mobility stand-points, this is an utter disaster for the children, because it is not permitting them to build domain expertise in sufficient areas that interest them at an appropriate age. Junior children are no longer able to draw accurately, and fear the process because it does not come naturally. Secondary children see creative and athletic disciplines as something they might do at the weekend, competing of course with all the other engagements that adolescents have to content with at the same time. Obviously, if the children are fortunate to go to a performing arts school or specialist sport or technology college, this is not the case, but the practical facts of the matter are that the focus has changed from specialisms to the core, and schools are choosing the same for all of their pupils, despite its obvious lack of merit for their broader educational development.

I have no problem if travellers wish to go to PISA, check out the leaning tower, look around the attached cathedral, get their photo taken holding it up or pushing it down, and sending that image as a postcard back home to prove they got there, bought the T-shirt, dropped the feather and ball from the top of the tower to explore gravity and then come back home. But that focussed journey is not the same as spending rather more time in ITALY, a country of great and diverse representations of culture from Ancient Rome to the present day. Their art, technology, music, drama food and philosophical thinking bursts upon the visitor and engages us in so many more ways, and this takes time, effort and commitment to get the full picture.  In the end, no doubt the tour operators will rub their hands with glee if they can reduce costs by increasing volume to the one city, grow the communication channels by increasing plane, hotel and bus size, with the expertise of the support team reduced to knowing the 10 pages from the guide book and testing same via extensive essay writing and number crunching around the limited palate of knowledge, skills and understanding required to visit PISA and return.

But if we want to develop the kind, caring, supportive, skillful and successful adults to lead the future of our country, they need to be permitted to be more than just tourists to PISA, pursuing a narrow course of study judged primarily by a tick box culture against core standards.  Reductionism of this kind reduces quality, not grows it; read this article published today on the future of Design Technology to see just how challenging the matter has become in a subject which really has to be at the heart of what every school offers its children from 11-14 – https://www.teachertoolkit.co.uk/2018/01/13/saving-design-technology/

We don’t get it all right in the independent sector by any means.  For example in my school, I need to be able to extend the girls programme to bring resistant materials and robotics into the mix, and the boys to add food and textiles. But at least the design experience and skill applications are covered by all pupils in a sustained way for 3 years, and the potential designer/builder has been inspired by age 14. The whole educational country,  be that ITALY, ENGLAND or wherever, needs its landscape explored. Sure, there are fun things to find in PISA, but that’s not enough to nourish and inspire our children.  It’s disappointing that our sector is receiving even greater blame for supporting privilege and elitism, when in our own minds we are doing quite the reverse. Certainly, the development of the whole child and our focus on growing great young adults, with excellent temperaments and a willingness to strive, is of greater importance than exam results.  Conservative minister and minister of health in the House of Lords, James O’Shaughnessy, who spent 4 years at Claires Court as a child spoke with great passion about the development of character education in schools being of paramount importance when he visited us in September last year. I ask the question – what kind of character to you build in a PISA tourist as opposed to a traveller who spends the time and trouble across ITALY?

In short, let’s not encourage educational tourism only to a narrow core band where success is measured through the passing of an exam.  None of us make best friends with people because of their grades, but because they have a much broader knowledge and understanding of who they are and how they fit, and the skills to make their lives all come out well, wherever they find themselves placed as adults in this world. I leave you with the writings of Plato, who was a philosopher in Classical Greece and the founder of the Academy in Athens, the first institution of higher learning in the Western world.
I woudl teach children Music = Plato

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