‘Calming the Storm’ – a reflection on 5 days of Lock-Down

It is inevitable that so many of our metaphors on crises point at our country’s war experiences of the last century, and encouraged by Dad’s Army etc. that ethos still flows rich in our writing. I’ve chosen the ‘weather’ metaphor instead, feeling it more apt. Like the arrival of the great winter storms this year, we’ve know they’ve been coming and we’ve planned our defences accordingly, battened down what hatches we could and awaited with bait breath the onslaught. Storm’ Dennis’ was an utter brute, blowing in at up to 140 mph/230 km/h , its impact for 7 days. The effects filled the news screens and we watched with baited breath as the flood defences of Ironbridge held up against the might of the torrent that the River Severn had become.

During this January, we became aware as a country of the emergence of a new ‘flu’ in China, that was rapidly causing one of its provinces to ‘shut down’ into isolation. In turn, within our school, we commenced some tightening of procedures, reviewing of our processes, checking what might happen in terms of emergency closure and considered our options. The call went out from my laptop to ensure all of our staff were bringing themselves up to date with the full use of Google Docs and its allies’, and checked that if not already, our classrooms themselves were going on-line with their teachers. What could possibly go wrong?

As Academic Principal, it falls to me first to confirm what our educational direction is to be, and how that is to be realised within the context of our school here in the Thames Valley. Obviously I sound out teaching approaches with my colleagues in leadership, but as there are few agreed ‘models’ on distance learning instruction for schools closed by pandemic, it falls to me to lead the discussions and affirm the choices. Given that the school spans the entire age range, the last thing I can set out is a ‘one size fits all’ approach, and it is very evident to any member of the Claires Court community that we do choose to do an awful lot of things in differing ways because of this, not just because of the age spread, but also because we teach a wide ability spectrum and we separate the children by gender from age 5 to 16 as well. Could the task be more complicated?

One of the ‘problems’ I experience as a well seasoned education researcher is that I know ‘stuff’ and the evidence that is required to validate decision making in education needs always to be better than a ‘hunch’. I won’t bore you at this stage with the details of Richard Elmore’s seminal paper* on how it simply isn’t possible to scale up promising educational practices into a national ‘rule of thumb’. What we know in schools, and mine certainly reflects this trend, is that we have amazing teachers who do amazing things in their classes, get breathtakingly good results, yet they all manage their classrooms differently. Even within a department, the contrasts can be quite stark; some teachers simply know how to teach and practice that really well, whilst others get to know their pupils really well, and investing time in those relationships rather than pedagogy holds them in equally good stead.

Elmore’s findings about the efforts in the USA (and 4 other countries) to standardise best practice in the classroom so that national standards could rise are grim indeed. From his study of 4000 classrooms in 500 schools he could not find a ‘super hero jumpsuit’ that teachers could slip on before stepping into role as a teacher. In short, ‘best practice’ in the classroom is an untrappable ‘Will-of-the-Wisp’; sure we can identify those simplistic things that can be harmonised but what we can’t do is simplify the complexity of learning. Helping students practice a skill they already have is one thing, but helping get their heads and hands around a concept new to them is quite a different matter.

“Who’s Elmore?” I hear you ask – Professor of Education at Harvard, and a serious world expert in education. Elmore asks the question ” Can you “teach” people to learn in ways you have not?” and gives us a very straight answer. “I think not!” So there in lies the rub. When we select our teachers to join Claires Court, we look for subject, age and stage expertise, their ability to build and nurture skills and relationships in the children and young people (CYP). We take more than a glance at their social media profile of course, not looking for positives as on-line educators there more than checking out that they are the ‘real deal’ in their ‘public’ private lives. In recent years, we have never selected any teachers because of their competence with distance learning skills, and I can think of only one ever, Chris Sivewright whose efforts here assisted in the establishment of Economics in the Sixth Form.

I confess I had more than Ellmore’s evidence to hand, I also have the experience of many wider industries who have learned to deal with serious disruptions. The first thing you must not do is change all of your practices at once. It’s far better to change by evolution over time, and agree what it is that you are trying to achieve in the new circumstances, before choosing the tools and adapting the processes as a consequence. We have learned this over the last decade in various phases of education; you can’t give up play too quickly with the early years, where experiences, peer coaching and movement for learning are essential. At primary & secondary level, knowledge and expertise need time to build; the ‘lost decade’ given over to training for the test in the state sector is so well understood that it embarrasses those who forced upon the nation.

I also had the luck that schools in Hong Kong had emergency close down forced upon themselves by the riots there last Autumn. Schools had to close, but the teachers were able to get together, design systems and roll them out for a week or two and then, after their return to school, evaluate the Good, Bad and Ugly bits. There were certainly plenty, more of those anon. When the schools had to shut down again in January, and not just in Hong Kong but across the Far East, the schools’ diverse community began in earnest running ‘on-line’ education, bringing children to the screen for the most prolonged period of time I have ever known. Of course we know there are families that choose to home educate, those being disciples of that approach and consenting to be teachers-and-learners in the same household. It’s clearly utterly different when families are locked-in, no escape from each other, and where priorities don’t just include the children’s school curriculum coming down the ‘tubes’.

My previous blog describes the theoretical approach taken, so I won’t repeat that, other than to confirm our first 8 day period of Distance Learning has been to close down the work of the term, using the existing tools we have at our disposal and in ways that both the teachers and children understand how to deploy. We’ve tried to keep up the best of communications we can, to inform public examinations students on their prospects of receiving grades this year, and to support their on-going establishment of their subject credentials. Every morning, for secondary pupils, teachers have ‘surfaced’ new work and then monitored and ‘conversed’ with their classes in their various on-line subject and pastoral Classrooms. At primary level, we’ve been less prescriptive, and of course at the Early Years stage, really only been able to prompt and suggest for families to take control.

With the whole of the Northern Hemisphere currently online, and with so many schools ramping up their on-line classrooms on Monday, it came as no surprise that so many commercial services crashed and burned. Even Firefly and Microsoft Cloud services creaked badly – here’s one of those stories – https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-52005999 whilst locally in homes with multiple occupancy, broadband speeds fell below the ability to stream live. These are certainly the lessons learned from the Hong Kong schools, but there are so many softer problems that need solving. Children are great peer educators, indeed true for adults too, and in the normal working day, all can receive support when their system appears not to be working. A quick nudge here, a ‘watch&learn’ there and every user is quickly up and running. At home, it’s utterly different, and very lonely indeed, where the tech problems don’t just magnify, they become insoluble without serious support.

We’ll know by Wednesday next just how successful all of our teachers and learners have been in adapting to their new workspaces and establishing their routines that will work for all the family. We’ve had so much good feedback; clearly for many, the approach has worked. I completely understand that for some, having online school in real-time is the solution they had expected, but sadly, as so many schools that have found last week, bandwidth and technology have not coped. Ellmore describes delivering ‘high level content’ in unfamiliar ways, like “knocking the corners of the grand piano to get it through the classroom door!” Yep, that was certainly an understandable metaphor witnessed!

Despite the very best of planning, and the careful direction to staff to go easy, the vast majority of teachers have learned in week 1 that being ‘distant and on-line’ is the most inefficient and time consuming way of working. Marking and Feedback takes so much longer, and we’ve had colleagues working to midnight to keep up with the ‘flow’ even though we had dramatically reduced the volume expected. Moreover, we have so many teachers who are both partnered up and have now become unexpected carers for their own family, children and adults, Time in the office has to be shared between the grown-ups if both are at home. Many staff’s partners are key workers too, so during some of the day, they are flying solo as chief cook and bottle washer. Calming the storm

Giles Coren writing in the Times today highlights some good advice for the ‘newly found careworker’:

A child psychologist and “neuroscience educator” in New Zealand called Nathan D Wallis has been doing the rounds on social media saying that all this remote schooling is a waste of time. Thank God.

I’m not saying that I’ve been looking for any excuse to nix the home school nonsense and get on with my life but when Wallis says, “Let your concerns about your kids’ academic outcomes go. They are stressed at this frightening time for the world. A four-week holiday from schoolwork is not going to do them any harm,” I am all ears.

He goes on: “When parents take over the teaching they tend to go to a 1920s model rather than a 2020s model (it is true I dusted off my old university mortar board on Monday morning and have been pinging chalk at the kids like billy-o) but trying to focus on reading and maths at a time like this is going to stress them out and harm your relationship.

Forget all that. Now is a great time to focus on self-care. Does your child know how to make their bed by themselves? (no) Do they know how to make their lunch? (they barely know how to eat it) Are they able to get up and make breakfast by themselves? (they aren’t even able to get up). These are skills your kids will need for the rest of their lives. They are easier for you as parents to focus on. And now is the appropriate time.”

Over the past 5 days, and with the support of Hangouts Meet, we’ve been developing our approach for the Summer term ahead – here’s a preview of our work under construction.

We’ll have a Handbook for the other stages, Junior and Sixth Form, covering the detail as required for that age and stage. What this framework does is advise and inform in more detail how we feel school will run during the summer term, until such time as we are released back into our premises. 

What we also know is that video and other visual interactions will help cement and build further the relationship of our teachers with the children and young people they teach.  We’ve already trialled some Hangouts, amd our YouTube channel is filling with great examples of Teachers in action. What we have not yet done is ‘Calm the storm’, as the full impact of Covid-19 is not due to hit until 2 weeks time. I sincerely hope our community weathers the full force of the epidemic and my heart goes out to the other public services that will be having to manage the human damage in real time. As a teacher, that’s not my role, but I do sincerely affirm that our preparations for learning to continue through the Spring and Summer are assured. Let’s close this blog with a lovely video produced for this Thursday’s on-line music assembly. Spot me if you can! It’s aptly titled ‘Isolation’.

*Elmore, Richard. (2016). “Getting to scale…” it seemed like a good idea at the time. Journal of Educational Change. 17. 10.1007/s10833-016-9290-8.

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Claires Court Home Learning work letter ◆ 19 March 2020


Dear Parents and Guardians

On Wednesday, Gavin Williamson, the Secretary of State for Education, announced that as part of the country’s ongoing response to COVID-19, schools, colleges and early years settings have been asked to close to everyone except children of key workers and vulnerable children from Monday 23 March. 

I am now writing to give further detail of the short term educational provision we are making for your children from now until the end of term, Wednesday 1 April.  This information covers children from Reception to Sixth Form. Parents of Nursery children will receive separate guidance from Mrs Wilding and the Nursery staff. Our Key workers with children in the school are already in contact with us; we are running key worker cover from Monday this week through until we reopen.

Firstly for our young learners in school, and for whatever age, we wish to bring your children’s curriculum in each subject area to a logical close.  For Secondary and Sixth Form students, their teachers will be setting their classwork via our digital ‘Hub’ & G-Suite tools on the days for when lessons are scheduled, coupled with the additional homework arising. This is their normal way of learning and we don’t envisage further explanation is needed at this stage.

For Junior Boys and Girls, as they follow the same curriculum outlines but in different ways, you can find our more about Junior Boys here – http://schl.cc/7G 

and more about Junior Girls here – http://schl.cc/7H 

Other countries have experienced shutdowns for these reasons for some 10 weeks now, and we have adapted our plans for the next 8 days in the light of their experience. A simple graphic that shows how best to plan such work can be found here http://schl.cc/7B. This first period of closure provides for an opportunity to consolidate, complete and reflect on their work of the term. For all Year groups, we are not expecting parents to take over the role of teachers, but we will need parents to assist in a variety of ways.

  1. It may be that the family does not have sufficient resources at home to support everyone with a suitable device to access our ‘Hub’. If you would like to loan an additional school Chromebook for home use, you can reserve one here via this Google Form. All devices reserved may be taken home from school tomorrow Friday 20 March by the boy or girl concerned. Please book a Chromebook here – http://schl.cc/7F 
  2. Please make arrangements at home for where your child is expected to do their work. We always recommend that the use of a screen for school work is conducted downstairs and in public view. If you are able to set up a work station for them, so much the better. 
  3. It is our plan for teachers to be at work during the day; they will monitor work being carried out in the morning, and provide feedback to completed work and in work streams during this time. During the afternoon they will be marking, planning and preparing the work of the following day, and liaising with their colleagues and sharing the load. Any questions from parents arising should in the first instance be communicated to the teacher concerned or the form teacher. 
  4. From 4-5pm, teachers and senior managers will be working together to resolve key issues. We hope to respond to any key queries during this time.
  5. A considerable amount of the work planned to be completed is not digital in nature, though the communication about it may be. Our plan is not to tie the children to a computer screen for a long time, so please ensure that no single work session lasts longer than 45 minutes.
  6. Many parents too will be working from home. Putting the family needs first, confirming family time, exercise outside and the myriad of other opportunities available will be all part of establishing a suitable routine.
  7. With pupils being at home, they will be using the internet more than ever. This may cause extra anxiety for parents. Our visiting consultant in this area is Paul Hay, and parents can find lots of information from his website direct:  www.pclstraining.com/links Paul is always more than happy for parents to email him direct with any questions they may have about their children’s use of the internet Paul.hay@pclstraining.com.

During the break, the teaching staff are working to establish those packages of work required for the Summer term starting on Wednesday 22 April. As this is new work, we will have to devise the most effective distance teaching strategies to support each module. Fuller information will be provided prior to the start of term. The School’s Curriculum Statements, https://www.clairescourt.com/handbooks, cover the elements of the ground to be covered; we are fortunate to have the whole G-Suite set of tools already deployed plus the many bespoke subscription services for subjects we use. These are tools though, and teaching needs to be layered sensitively to support everyone’s learning, whether able or vulnerable learner.

The school is formally closing for its Easter break on Wednesday 1 April, and for most, End of Term reports and communications will follow this day. During the period Thursday 2 April to Monday 20 April inclusive the academic staff are on leave, so teaching and learning activities directed by school will cease during this time. I will be writing further to highlight the more extended opportunities for support we are making available during this time, from our Library service amongst others next week. Keyworkers’ children in school will move to a version of our holiday activities programme, though that is unlikely to be available for other users of this service due to the government restrictions and need for social distancing and isolation.

For Year 11 and 13, we await further news from the Government tomorrow on the mechanisms by which their GCSE and A level grades are to be awarded. It is vitally important that these students keep developing their skills and maintain their academic standards of speaking, reading and writing. We will be using Google Hangouts MEET to record speaking assessments, as well as the other tools in G-Suite to capture the very obvious improvements our students are able to make in these important final weeks of study. 

I hope the above summarises clearly our arrangements  to the end of term. If you have any further questions, please address these to your child’s headteacher.

Yours sincerely

James Wilding

JTW@clairescourt.net 

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Preparing for all eventualities – March 2020

Whilst every week of school is busy, this time of year Claires Court is at its most active, and with every part of our antennae ever focussed on the education, health and care of our children and staff as the Covid-19 epidemic develops, I sense ‘a quiet, determined, responsible leadership in many different situations and contexts’ across our organisation. My quote is from Geoff Barton*, General Secretary of the Association of School & College leaders, and it is so clearly evident at Claires Court. I write more in my blog today, but for now please be reassured that we are doing as much as we can humanly do to ensure the school is prepared for all the various contingencies, both current and in the future.

Our Executive Headteacher, Justin Spanswick is leading the school’s efforts to ensure that Claires Court pupils and staff , and in his breifing to parents yesterday writes:

“Please be assured that we are constantly evaluating the situation regarding the spread of Covid-19, and we are in regular liaison with the Department for Education (DfE), Public Health England (PHE) and the NHS to ensure we prioritise the wellbeing of our school community.

Taking advice from those external agencies, we have already made several adjustments to our provision for the pupils and staff. These adjustments include additional education on good hygiene, prioritising pastoral support for pupils concerned about the virus, and providing the required resources to keep the school as clean as possible. 

As the spread of Covid-19 continues, we have also cancelled or postponed several trips and visits to ensure that we are following all government recommended guidelines. Our ski trip to Northern Italy has been cancelled, our visit from Zoolab for both Junior and Senior schools is postponed until the summer term, and we have now postponed our Lent Term Senior Boys and Girls music concert. Further information on rearranged times where applicable will be available at a later date.

Backstage, so to speak, I’ve been preparing with our academic leaders and managers to be able to manage the delivery of teaching, learning and feedback to our classes should the government make the decision to close schools. We are well placed to do so, particularly at Secondary and Sixth Form level, as our teachers and students are well used to using G-Suite and Google classroom for the delivery and completion of academic tasks. Our junior classes are pretty familiar with Chrome tools too, and currently we are working out how to make additional Chromebooks available to our families who may face unusual competition for the 1 desktop device they have available at home. I do hope that we can keep ‘real school’ open for as long as possible, but with the ‘Claires Court Hub‘ now 8 years old, it provides a great repository of links and knowledge of how we work within the school.

It’s also great to confirm that a huge numbers of the commercial companies involved in education are planning to make their ‘pay-for’ services freely available during the period of the current unusual educational disturbance. We’ll be able to ‘live stream’ privately within the @clairescourt.net domain readily to large audiences, and eve hold Q&E sessions to groups of up to 250 via ‘Hangout Meets’. Working remotely, our teachers will be able to work in teams to provide ‘coherent’ batches of work for classes and year groups, and of course provide assessment, feedback comments and other support. And of course, since we have published curriculum statements for all of our year groups, it’s quite easy to predict what areas of learning will need to be covered in any 1 half of term.

I sense what won’t be possible via a ‘screen’ is the kind of ‘classroom experience’ that looks and feels like school. We won’t be able to plan for all of a class to be sat down together, to work together in real-time, partly because of course we have no idea of what will be happening in people’s homes on a day to day basis. What we have found though, when boys and girls have been ‘off school’ for a period of time, is that they are able to work successfully on a unit by unit basis. Young learners are usually able to consolidate their learning quite successfully on their own, learning lists and completing comprehension tasks and knowledge projects. What’s not nearly so easy is to undertake new learning where topics and concepts are unfamiliar. So part of our current planning will be to delay those deeper elements of a topic that might need some careful teaching first. The concept of stretch and challenge for the more able must still exist in our ‘digital space’ but we musn’t just plan new ‘lessons in how to swim’ by ‘chucking the children into the deep end!”

There’s clearly going to be a great scientific data capture around which country managed this current epidemic best. Like many school leaders in England, I recognise our responsibility to keep school in session whenever possible, in part because teaching ensures learning happens, and in part because parents too have roles to fulfil, for their family, for their employer and indeed for society at large. I recognise too that other countries are making their choices and they’ll be different to ours. The USA have just cancelled their Rowing season for 2020, and we see great rafts of cancellations of events, regular and one-offs elsewhere; Sunday mass is cancelled in Rome, and the Football has been put on hold. I do wish the best for everyone, as the health threat to the elderly and infirm is very real; such loved ones need the best of help at the best of times, and we must do even better for them over the weeks to come.

*Geoff spoke on #BBCBreakfast, and as ever he’s really worth listening to. https://www.pscp.tv/w/1lDxLgebMNRJm

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Investing in the near future – why do it?

February in our school year is almost certainly the busiest time in my personal schedule. Not only are there multiple opportunities to attend meetings after school, I have the Principal’s day job, Head of Exam centres (x2), SB headteacher responsibilities, teacher, colleague, care worker and so forth all competing with the time available, not forgetting of course the personal responsibilities outside of school, which include , mourner, husband, parent, grandparent and the final all-encompassing role of crisis management leader.

My headline of – ‘Investing in the near future – why do it? is born from the hearing of children and adults over the years that ‘the only reason why society is doing something is as a consequential reaction to criticism’. I have recently presented at 2 national meetings (training new headteachers and holding Universities to account) and the agendas do seem easily overtaken by the ‘Whack-a-Mole’ approach to solution management – I check Google dictionary for elaboration – “used with reference to a situation in which attempts to solve a problem are piecemeal or superficial, resulting only in temporary or minor improvement”.

As a school leader, I am running and planning this week, next week, next month, next term and next year, and the change in horizons brings markedly different challenges. Monday 2 March sees the country surface decisions about secondary school placements. By Monday 9 March, I’ll have my staffing plans for September 2020 up for approval, and that’s no mean feat, given the size of our faculty (200+ teacher/educators) and the complexity of subject choices that pupils aged 11, 14, 16 etc. are now able to make within the CC educational offer. We have new/improved academic courses to introduce at all levels, including the arrival of Virtual Reality as a learning tool; priorities for staff continuing professional development are being set for quite some time into later 2021.

In a parallel universe, my leadership team are monitoring the day-to-day control systems that our school needs to stay fit and healthy. Is the predicted Chiltern Hills’ snowfall going to stop the school’s bus services running? Are our communications about Covid-19 reaching our pupils, staff, parents and wider community effectively? Have we broader ‘stuff’ in place in case the pandemic puts the ‘Thames Valley’ into quarantine? Are the Maths GCSE results coming down the tube next Thursday going to make it, reach the pupils & staff in a respectful manner and separately, has the time been set aside to analyse and handle the inevitable mini-crises that arise if individuals don’t achieve as they/we might have expected?

And so the other additional universes play out. Our engagement with the ‘Green Agenda’ continues; new water filters and bottle fillers have been installed on all 3 sites, and plastic bottles of ‘bought water’ now disappear from the sales shelves. The ‘food miles’ of our catering offer continue to reduce, whilst the quality of the ‘catering offer’ continues to improve. ‘Rapid’ staff development has seen our cooks and housekeepers dramatically improve the look and feel of school all through the year. Corona virus not withstanding, we have nurses, cleaners, staff of all descriptions securing our work place in ways previously unheard of. And yes, all week and on all sites I have been able to ‘disinfect my hands’ at will.

Any householder will know that if you want a builder on-site to make something happen you have to have a plan and obtain quotes and all sorts. As Claires Court has North of 1400 adults and children running around it on a daily basis, wearing out everything from Assembly halls, bath & cloak rooms, desks, etc.through to valves, windows, yards and zips, refurbishment and refreshing of our school is an incredibly important process. We’ve new carpets on the staircase to the first floor at Senior Boys – I overheard this week from pupils staring at the change – “The school must have given up on its plans for a new campus then!” I’ll come back to that ‘small voice’ later on; please accept dear reader that come Easter, Summer and Autumn, the builders are always with us, so the question is ‘What have we in mind for 2020 then’?

Here’s just a taster on one project for this summer – The total refurbishment of our Sixth Form.

This will provide fantastic group and individual study areas, and new technology, as well as social hubs including a cafe. Work will be completed for September 2020, creating a great Sixth Form where all therein can continue to thrive. Our current students have contributed their views and suggestions, having a significant input about contemporary requirements for studies. Our design will reflect these in a fresh, sharp, clean way. The pre-university and workplace style environment will enhance students’ learning experience and prepare them well for life after Sixth Form. We look forward to inviting you into our new Sixth Form later this summer, of course.

Shorter term, and thanks to the immense vision and generosity of our PTA Foundation trustees, we have a new non-turf cricket pitch being installed at our Taplow playing fields in April. With so many different age groups requiring differing lengths of cricket wicket, our grass square simply can’t cope in a spring and summer where we need to be able to play the game, even in a light drizzle! Their further generosity also brings in a teaching set of Virtual Reality googles so our teachers can commence the in-house training needed so their use can be expanded into the classroom from September. For adults as well as children, ensuring we have time to ‘play’ with learning ideas and practice the skills needed forms a vital part of our work-life balance school needs to keep in mind.

That ‘small voice’ heard on the staircase has very clearly bought into the vision that we do need still to ‘refresh’ the school by moving on to a new campus. We have completed our pre-appeal draft report ‘Statement of Common Ground’ and that has been shared with the local authority last month. I quote from the February 2020 planning guidance: “For an appeal where the appellant wishes to proceed by a hearing or an
inquiry the appellant must provide a draft statement of common ground (as
required by the Hearing and the Inquiry Procedure Rules) when making their
appeal. A “draft statement of common ground” means a written statement
containing factual information about the proposal which is the subject of the
appeal that the appellant reasonably considers will not be disputed by the
local planning authority.
” You can find the full guide here. Our appeal will be formally lodged with the Planning Inspectorate within the next few weeks, signalling the commencement of further intensive work between both parties. We are appealing on the new school campus and the adjacent playing fields, and securing that planning decision in our favour opens up the major opportunity for the school to complete its relocation onto one site. The obvious value of the other 2 school sites for new houses is evident to all, and the major grounds for the refusal of our plans for housing was largely due to the ‘loss of a school’.

As we emerge from one of the darker ‘seasons’ the world has endured, I have plenty of optimism that wider society has heeded the lesson to work more collaboratively together. Whether it will maintain that approach only time will tell, but we won’t manage ‘climate change’ nor ‘pandemic’ without working much more in unison, let alone develop effective new relationships within Europe and the 4 home countries. Our young people have every reason to ‘channel their Greta Thunberg’ and demand that we don’t let them down. It is indeed their future that we hold in our hands, and hearing their voice and making sure we create a worthwhile legacy for them will in turn educate them to do the same for their future generations to come.

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Unintended consequences – the product of chaotic & disruptive events 2020

So Dear Reader…

This Blog is about the world, the UK, school and the future, so please stay tuned because, reading this on the day of publication St Valentine’s day, you’ll guess my thoughts don’t end on a low point.

PLC UK has recently spent 3+ years in a chaotic space, not knowing ’nuffink’; parliament and the country coming and going/in-or-out, coupled with deal/no deal as part of the conundrum.

Entering 2020 and it’s been a breeze; we have a government with a decisive majority, a ‘man-of-the-people’ in charge and a mantra of ‘we can get this done’ snow-ploughing all ahead on social media. What’s not to like?

External natural influences such as Storms Ciara, Dennis, COVID-19 to name but 3 remind us that the unpredictable can happen every day. Equally, whilst we’ll be delighted to learn that the ‘down-under’ bushfires are suddenly a thing of the past, the arrival of coastal Australia Ex-tropical cyclone Uesi means that ‘OZ’ now has heavy rain, which has lashed the state since last weekend. Such severe storms led to flash flooding in Queensland where a 75-year-old man is reported to have died, record rainfall caused chaos in Sydney, and the weather woes are set to continue, with further storms expected along the east coast over the next few days. Flood warnings have been issued for NSW and for southern Queensland, and she’ll bring winds of up to 130km/h to the tiny Lord Howe Island, about 600km equidistant between OZ and NZ, and put simply, they need us to pray for them just now!

Back here in Blighty, the Boris Johnstone ‘bus tour’ is about to commence, after the Christmas, New Year & Caribbean break. Left with no story or news to write about, (Remember, Boris has been on leave with his girl/friends/mates), our papers have already begin to mythologize just how well our new PM has commenced the 20’s leadership style of this century. Journalists suggest we have a new Churchill, able to choose the most amazing team around him, and as a consequence no longer needs to be seen on the media or heard on Radio 4, because, as a man of the people,he knows how they want to hear what’s next best to happen.

Day 1 of the said Bus tour, Boris’s reshuffle is now in plain view, and some very important close friends have been dropped at the first stop, because of course, only ‘Boris knows best’. As best example, here’s best news of Savid Javid’s resignation.

BBC news says “Sajid Javid has shocked Westminster by quitting as chancellor in the middle of Boris Johnson’s cabinet reshuffle. Mr Javid rejected the prime minister’s order to fire his team of aides, saying “no self-respecting minister” could accept such a condition.

Mr Javid had been due to deliver his first Budget in four weeks’ time. The former home secretary was appointed chancellor by Mr Johnson when he became prime minister in July. His resignation follows rumours of tensions between Mr Javid and the prime minister’s senior adviser Dominic Cummings. He has been replaced as chancellor by Chief Secretary to the Treasury Rishi Sunak – who just seven months ago was a junior housing minister.

Of course, elsewhere in the world, there’s no plain sailing either. With Democracy per se giving rise to the no clear mandate in countries throughout Europe and Israel, and in other countries where the word has been ‘bent’ a little, such as Turkey and Russia, their presidents have done their level best to ensure they remain in power for a very long time. That might be a good thing really, and we certainly should not be aiming to get in the way of those controlling forces, for fear of causing something worse.

And here’s how the Chaos of dramatic change has effect in schools these last few years. Locally and wider afield, schools and their GCE/GCSE students therein no longer have their studies and achievements validated by coursework created along the way over a 24 month period. The ‘norm’ now is ‘study hard’ for 18 months, learn how to learn and produce the results in the exam room to sort the best from the rest. It will take another 5 or so years for the researchers to complete their long term study of the effects of these changes, but the effects are becoming quite clear already. Those with stable homes and sufficient funds to keep their families warm and well fed are thriving, other than in the wider terms of their children’s mental health, because the first past the post system does seem to be putting far more pressure on the students than a decade or so ago and classic coursework courses that they have replaced. And for those without the stability of a nourished homelife, they are finding it much harder to compete in this style of assessment, hence the social mobility indicators stalling and in reverse of the desired trend that all should be able to succeed through school. Their mental health has certainly suffered, for which insecure learning is only one of the factors.

It’s been interesting to read emerging research that because employment is now reserved for the post 18 year old, our younger disenfranchised adolescents no longer spend their time in the company of older adults in work, but in their own company out of work, and influenced much more heavily by what’s available within their peer group in terms of entertainment and occupation. It seemed so obvious to aim to keep all in education to age 18, either at school or college or in apprenticeships; trouble is, the latter are scarce and only available to the good guys and girls, and unless you are ‘academic’ and ‘well supported’, studying at school to keep taking English and Maths GCSE as a focus simply doesn’t cut the ‘skills’ development we need for those to have a successful future.

This week’s new choice to further cut thousands of obsolete level 3 (A level equivalent) and below is on the face of it, no bad thing. The leaders of the further education sector recognise vocational courses are always evolving and adapting, and the efforts of central government is to focus more clearly on 3 major strands that bring greater harmony to the post 16 landscape, academic, vocational and apprenticship studying be the 3 routes forwards. So long as the investment goes into the apprenticeships and that genuinely we provide enough work-based learning for our young people, then we’ll see their reintegration into a society with the space and attention span to look after their welfare.

Teachers in whatever phase of learning they are to be found are representatives of one of the noblest of professions. We will never get rich in monetary terms, but it’s a great calling and brings out the best in so many they reach. On Monday this week, we learned of the death of one of our finest teachers of the last 30 years here in school, Susan Payne.

We learned on Monday of the death of Susan Payne, teacher and latterly deputy head at Junior Boys until quite recently. Richard Hoog, teacher both of RS at Senior Boys and still form teacher for Year 6 at Junior Boys wrote this perfect snap-shot of Susan in her memory. I copy it in full below, and doff my hat to both Mr Hogg and Mrs Payne, teachers indeed in the finest ‘Noble’  tradition of educators in the land.

“She was a great servant of Chess at Ridgeway/Claires Court, an outstanding teacher, a patient mentor and a loyal friend. Susan continued to develop chess at Claires Court, taking the game outside these walls for the first time to play in the Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and EPSCA leagues. She pushed for more tournaments to be played at the school and helped build the foundation for future success – not only driving the school minibus to weekend tournaments but, in the early days of EPSCA, Susan would take the boys off to Camber Sandsfor a whole weekend tournament; not to everyone’s taste I hear you say, but a true testament to someone determined to give Claires Court boys every possible opportunity during their time with us. So many boys have so much to thank her for.

I will never forget the time I was visiting Susan in hospital after her miraculous recovery from meningitis. We had been chatting away about life, the universe and everything when a diminutive nurse knocked on the door and announced in a sweet Irish brogue that it was time for Susan to sit her psych evaluation; a must for all in her situation. At this point Susan asked, straight faced, if we could have another paper so I could sit the test too…

Mrs Payne was a kind and above all, determined individual; possessing a regal quality that would in itself not be out of place on a chessboard. On the wall in what was her office she had a large poster boasting the poem Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night by Dylan Thomas. Susan Payne would not “Go Gentle”. She fought illness with a cheerful and faithful confidence, living to see the marriage of both her daughters, and the birth of two grandchild – two years after being given only weeks to live.

I still keep a text message from Susan from the morning after Claires Court finally, after much effort on Susan’s part, broke into the group of top Chess playing schools in the country with triumph in Bristol. The message reads:

“Had a great night’s sleep… Just sinking in what a momentous achievement it is. Thank you for inviting me to see history being made. WELL DONE to you all!”

No Susan – Thank you. ” And to Richard I extend my thanks, cast in a similar mould, chess ‘whizz’ and wry humourist, and great leader of ‘Chess education in our junior school. Children find chess is one of those most rewarding of games to play, luck playing little part in its methodology. Rules and strategies have to be learned and honed, and then…practice, practice, practice must then follow.

And broadly speaking that’s what teachers throughout the world have to do, introduce, school, teach and then encourage practice… ; it takes the patience of a Saint (thank you Valentine) and the broad shoulders when the learner needs a shove, and sufficient humour to cope with the setbacks that always show up in the classroom. And that’s a good metaphor for all of us to follow, as we face the ongoing and ever changing face of the world in which we live!

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‘Are you a Sharent’… an information article from the ThinkUknow peeps for Parents.

With schools reopening for the new term, it’s interesting to read about the growing problem of social media sites using their control of user-shared media for purposes way beyond parental expectation. Here’s the ThinkUknow peeps on the matter – text below, and website here…https://www.thinkuknow.co.uk/parents/articles/Sharing-pictures-of-your-children?dm_i=JAQ,6N3M4,8CVJ0J,QNL31,1

Sharing pictures of your children online

Most parents love sharing photos of their children with friends and family. But remember – pictures you share online could be out there for ever. Learn how to protect your child whilst staying social.

Are you a ‘sharent’?

For many children online life begins before birth, when their excited parents-to-be post ultrasound images on social media.  A recent report stated that 42% of parents share photos of their children online, with half of these parents posting photos at least once a month (Ofcom, 2017). For parent bloggers the frequency of posting photos is likely to be more.

The internet can provide fantastic tools for sharing special moments from your child’s early years with family and friends. And online parenting forums, networks and blogs often provide valuable support and reassurance through parenting’s ups and downs.

But before you share, give thought to exactly who can see photos and comments featuring your child, and how this online footprint might affect your child in years to come.

What should you consider?

  • Who’s looking? When did you last check your privacy settings? On most social networks the default is that any other service user can access your pictures, which may also appear in internet search results. Remember that anyone who can see a photo can also download or screenshot it, and could go on to share it.
  • What else are you sharing? You might be sharing more than what’s in the post. As default, many cameras, phones and apps tag posts and photos with ‘meta-data’ which can include location details and other identifying information. This is potentially risky for any child, but poses particular risks for vulnerable children such as those who have been fostered or adopted and could be sought online by members of their birth family.
  • Ownership Under the terms and conditions of most social networks, when you share a photo you licence the network to use and reproduce your image, and grant it the right to licence it for use by third parties. It could be used for commercial purposes, a point deliberately highlighted by the Danish company Koppie Koppie, which sold mugs featuring freely downloaded pictures of young children. Another online activity which has distressed parents and carers is the ‘Baby Role Play’game played by some Instagram users, who repost photographs of other people’s children and create fictional identities based on them. 
  • Their digital tattoo Every publically accessible image or comment featuring your child contributes to a public image which will follow them into the future. That apocalyptic nappy incident might make for a hilarious tweet now, but if it comes to light when they’re older, how could it affect the way they feel about themselves, or you, or how others see them? Could their online childhood become an issue if they are seeking a job, or a relationship, or even election to public office?

Your child’s right to privacy Psychologist Aric Sigman has expressed concerns about the impact on children of the eroding boundaries between private and public online: “Part of the way a child forms their identity involves having private information about themselves that remains private.”

Parent bloggers

If you’ve set up a blog to share your parenting experiences with a wider audience, you’ve probably already given plenty of thought to issues like your child’s privacy, managing their digital footprint, ownership and copyright, and commercialism.

Strategies adopted by some successful bloggers include: anonymising their own and their child’s identities; involving their child in the material you create and only posting material they are happy with; and carefully monitoring their child’s online presence, for example by checking their name in search aggregator services or setting up a Google Alert for their name. 

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“The key to educational success? Side with the teacher, not your child.” Katharine Birbalsingh – *particualrly important in the 2020s

Dear Reader, before current parents being to froth at the mouth at my choice of Blog title for the new Decade of the 21st Century, I must quickly make clear that the title is not of my making, but the words written by Katharine Birbalsingh, headmistress and founder of Michaela Community School, Wembley Park. I’ve met Katharine on a couple of occasions in the distant past, just when she was articulating what kind of Free school she would like to establish, and indeed we loaned her the projection kit so she could run some presentations for potential future parents.

It’s my *byline to confirm that this approach is particularly important in the 2020s, at a time when family, society, life itself might possibly be becoming even more complicated. Going back to the 1960s, when I was growing up as a child reaching for his teenage years, my extended family and real friends tended to put me right when I was in disagreement with my father or mother, or indeed any one of the many teachers who had responsibility for my care at school. Inevitably I was contained within a bubble of societal expectations that constrained and informed my actions. Obviously I knew by Summer of 1966 that England was the best football side in the world, that ‘pop’ music was a new medium in which I could become an expert way ahead of my parents, that ‘free love’ was something to find out more about, because ‘it’ was all over the popular press and that if I did wander off into the woods, I was unlikely to meet something nasty there. The nearest point of call to the ‘matrix’ was the red telephone box down the road, and a punishingly high cash tariff in loose change should you actually choose to make a call.

I have a very clear memory that by age 17 (when I completed my A levels) many good habits had become permanently ingrained. Good handwriting was completely expected of me, and I show colleagues now my exercise books when I was aged 8 and 9, and they are amazed at the high quality of fountain pen ink writing therein. We spent hours learning to handwrite, and every lesson we took was a handwriting lesson. Mathematics was a different language, and learning to draw diagrams, using a fountain pen upside down, with a ruler equally inverted, to keep the ink lines thin and to prevent capillary attraction of the liquid to the wood was a skill we had to master. Without calculators we had to master the use of logarithm tables and slide rules, antiquated mechanical devices that were more than a nod to the alethiometer of ‘His Dark Material’s’ fame. I don’t joke when I say that the craft skills to pass A level Sciences were really quite intense; the practicals were monstrously difficult, making extensive use of the laboratory apparatus seen as a backdrop to Frankenstein movies and their ilk. In short, as there were few opportunities to waste time, we learned to like practicing using the protractor and draw accurately, because work demanded it and we did not actually like having to ‘DO IT AGAIN’!

It seems to me there are 4 quadrants to success at school, those best shown by the graphic below:

At my first assembly of the term this morning, I re-introduced this image to Senior Boys, highlighting that none of us can achieve our ambitions unless we learn the value of each of all 4 elements. The greatest in every field of human endeavour always reference the value of practice in making a skill or ability perfect and permanent. Once a bike has been learned to ride, or a car driven, the skills are in place and can be readily recalled. But getting there is the journey that needs to be made, involving the falling off, the bruising of knees, the knocked bumper or a red light ‘run’. I shared a showreel of the latest ‘Alumni recruits’ to my staircase showreel, all stills except a short video of Tim Harbour creating his music track ‘Made of Paper‘ to emphasise this point. But I could have shown other of this term’s recruits, Phil Clapp choosing to break the Skierg World record , or Michael Mcquhae’s B-Reel company’s film work, this one giving athletes a platform for their own voice, or how Anton Jerges managed to recreate the League of Legends battle arena across 3000 square metres of ExCel London including a 500 person LAN gaming area, live streaming, and global broadcasts, linked in with live announcements from Global HQ in the US, live performances and an after show party. Gulp.

The skills, talents, imagination and perspiration on show highlight just how much of success comes down to repetitive hard work, put in over a sustained period of time. Yes of course there are some short cuts, but that’s of the cut-and-paste variety when iterative activities are needed. What’s emerged in recent years across the world is a sense that learners should be able make use of short cuts to avoid the hard yards that otherwise help shape the learning experience. The epidemic rise of plagiarism for university and school coursework is one of the most obvious signs that cheating is supported in ways it has not been hithertoo. This Guardian article highlights the growth in legitimate private tuition outside of schools in the country, with somewhere between 27% and 41% making use of such services, and highlights just how big an ‘arms race’ now exists to raise achievement on paper. The same newspaper carried this story last month of the exponential rise in cheating through the use of technology in exam rooms in schools, plus the hacking of school systems to steal exam papers and the use of social media to ‘sell’ cheat sheets to exam candidates.

Parents and Schools are clearly entitled to disagree with the methods being used in school, and such conflict is often a useful safety mechanism that leads to school improvement. Conflict is not Combat though; here’s Birbalsingh on the matter ” When you go marching in to “give that teacher a piece of your mind”, all you are doing is letting off steam and seemingly taking your child’s side. Yes, teachers make mistakes. But do you really want to win the battle and lose the war? Do not underestimate the power of the relationship between teacher and pupil and how much you as a parent can influence it. Sometimes waiting, biting your tongue and thinking is the best strategy.

She goes on to write “Children depend on their parents to expect the very best of them. Being a good parent does not mean indulging your child’s every whim. It means making sensible decisions and pushing back when your child is behaving like a child. Kids are kids. It is what makes them so adorable. But a good parent needs to trust their school if the child is to succeed.

Why consensus between school and home is more important than ever in the 2020s is because children are not less supported then before, but supported differently by the countless thousands of opinions out there they can secure from their extended virtual ‘friends’ to demonstrate the clear ‘unreasonableness of family and school’. With so many more families being divided and united in different ways, through divorce, separation and repartnering, ‘kids’ are pretty good at squeezing through the gaps and getting their own way between parents and/or schools who might be in disagreement. It’s scary too how quickly children can find short-cuts on the ‘net’, and learn really quickly that the ‘answers are out there’, just ‘copy and paste’ to pass the mark, or ‘pay the money’ for drugs and worse to be dropped outside your house. The explosion in modern day slavery, county lines, exploitation and ‘underage’ pornography has made children more vulnerable than ever. As the letter I endorsed from every secondary headteacher to their communities in Buckinghamshire made clear, the epidemic is real, here and in every layer of our community.

Whether you are a parent or teacher, neither or perhaps even both, it’s worth bearing in mind that consensus and agreement builds harmony amongst adults, tightens our ranks and provides for a better safety net for all. And if ever there was a cautionary tale to be told on how inventing new solutions develops new problems, it is in the rise of Conflict Resolution Careers in the world of work! In the past I would have called this solving arguments and providing solutions, but it’s clearly become a big business in the adult workplace, and inevitably is cascading into family and school life too. Company executives now talk of an epidemic of conflict emerging, perhaps because ‘conflict managers’ need ‘conflicts’ to resolve. Schools may for ever been regarded as ‘conflict zones’ but actually they are not; education may be the most complex of all human activities, but children and teachers value hugely fairness and the value of arbitration and peace-making. In recent days I can speak out firmly in favour of our own parent community who have communicated rapidly and honestly on matters of concern taking place over the Christmas break, because children (or parents) have put themselves at risk and trusting (rightly) that sharing such information precipitates the ‘right’ support ‘right’, and from the get-go.

I sense that as we enter the twenties our country has reached a consensus (even if pro-tem) about its future, and has now resolved to do its best. I was heartened at the close of today’s assembly that boys young and old came to speak to me about their hopes and optimisms, and thank me for starting off the decade on such a positive note. That’s good noticing and well done them.

Today’s assembly show-real of ideas can be found here. The short football film was to highlight the arrival of ball skills that can only arise through hours of practice.

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Claires Court Senior Carol Service 17 December 2019

Our Carol Services follow a shortened version of the Service of Nine Lessons with Carols, first drawn up by Edward Benson when Bishop of Truro for use in his cathedral. It was simplified and adapted for use in the chapel of King’s College, Cambridge, in 1918 by the Dean, Eric Milner-White, who wrote this opening to our service: 

“Beloved in Christ, be it this Christmastide our care and delight to hear again the message of the angels, and in heart and mind to go even unto Bethlehem and see this thing which is come to pass, and the Babe lying in a manger. Therefore let us read and mark in Holy Scripture the tale of the loving purposes of God from the first days of our disobedience unto the glorious redemption brought us by this Holy Child.”

You can see the whole service here – link. https://youtu.be/TAoD2hqi_-M

Below I write the Bidding prayers used today, spoken in different ways by either Aiden & Grace or Josh & Issy, superbly and most movingly.

The story of Jesus Christ and his birth 2000 years ago is one of the greatest stories ever told, known across the globe. Whilst Bethlehem of Galilee was the town of his birth, his country was known then as Judea, which whilst known as a Kingdom (as Britain is today), with its monarch King Herod, the power of the land was held by the colonising Roman Army, governed by Quirinius.  Quirinius was governor of the neighbouring country, Syria and had been given the task by the Roman Emperor, Augustus to carry out a census of the numbers of people living in Judea, for the purposes of government to collect taxes from the population. Compared with Joseph, Mary and their baby Jesus, our own circumstances seem fairly comfortable really. Yet much of the recent election story has been on similar themes, on providing services for health and education, to shelter the  homeless and to worry about refugees and support their presence in our country. The Christmas message of the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ promises us peace on earth and goodwill among all his people.

Let’s us also recognise that our new national government, together with its partner international organisations play their part to support and provide all of our citizens here in the UK and across the world,  with comfort, hope, medical aid and human rights support. We ask that all those with power and influence will work together to make it possible to live in security and peace. Lord hear us

“We as individuals can play our part; as our Sixth Form so ably demonstrated through their  choice to visit The Gambia, doing their best through the raising of funds and materials, to work in the new school being developed in Brufut over half-term .

It’s been a year since we first spoke of the actions of Greta Thunberg, a15-year-old teenager who travelled to Katowice, Poland, on 3 December to speak in person at the UN climate change summit.  Since then she has become one of the best known faces on the planet; now 16-years old, Greta has visited the UN in Washington and travelled back to Madrid last Friday, to speak once again to the annual United Nations climate change conference. 

Teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg no longer wishes the world to listen to her, a privileged  white girl speaking about the plight of many nations across the southern part of planet earth whose nations are being decimated by climate change. She states that  It is time for the world to listen to the voices of the many countries calling for those of us in the developed west to help by changing our actions. ‘Whilst people write about me, they will be writing about climate change’ she says, ‘And the movement is getting bigger and bigger’ but of course that does not translate into political action.

We ask that we each may be given the strength to make good choices for the planet in all that we do, and that our new government too respond to the national will of this country to make a difference for the better, be that by pressing ahead to become carbon neutral quickly, or through the assistance of other nations who need emergency support and funds for further sustainable development.  Lord hear us”

The physical world continues to be both unpredictable and dangerous, from the terrible forest fires in the Amazon, California and Australia to the recent volcanic eruption in New Zealand.  Whilst we can do little about earthquakes and flooding, we can work to make more ethical choices, to value the Forests and Oceans for their ecology rather than for the farming of their wildlife for our consumption.

Whilst we are at school and have the opportunity to shape our future learning, help us focus on gaining the skills to do the right things right,  how to farm sustainably, tavel economically, how to comfort and console, and above all to have empathy the strength of will and the generosity of spirit for other less fortunate than us . Lord hear us.”

“This last 12 months has seen no improvement in the personal safety of men and women in our country. Whilst for many of us crime does not affect our daily work, when it does, its impact can be devastating and life changing.

Let us pray for all those communities trapped in the cycle of abuse and exploitation and give as much support as we can to those who try to support and rebuild the lives of the vulnerable and traumatised victims of crime. Let us hold in the highest esteem those who choose to work to protect us, the police, ambulance and hospital services and those who work in prisons or choose to assist in the rehabilitation of offenders. Lord hear us.”

“Let us give encouragement to all organisations and individuals dedicated to bringing about racial harmony in our workplaces, parishes, communities and in our world. We can do this through our prayers, time, skills and resources.  May those in power strive to be diligent in their duties and courageous in the face of the challenges and experiences they will encounter in such work. Let us pray for the courage to speak out in communities where racial tensions persist. Lord hear us.”

“We ask too that our efforts with these gifts of hampers and clothing reach and assist some of the poor, cold and helpless, the lonely and the unloved, aged and young alike here locally in Maidenhead; all those who cannot call upon a roof for shelter or upon a house in which to make a home. Lord hear us.”

In conclusion:

“When you come to Jesus Christ with your whole heart, your search for peace of mind will be over. He will give peace, and a calm that comes only from trusting Him. You will be able to say with the poet:

I know a peace, where there is no peace,

A calm, where wild winds blow,

A secret place where face to face,

With the Master I may go.”

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Anti-Social behaviour concerns in the Thames Valley

Letter supported by the Buckinghamshire Association of Secondary Headteachers. 10 December 2019

The following text is extracted from a letter sent this week to all families in Bucks, from the headteachers of all the Buckinghamshire secondary schools, as the heads are very concerned about the rise in the use of drugs by young people and the carrying and potential danger of knives in the local area. I have amended the text solely to include our borough and those of the Thames Valley, which are facing identical problems.

At Claires Court, we share these concerns, and our pastoral and PHSEE programmes aim to cover many of these elements from an educative point of view. All of the local schools in the region take an extremely strong approach to drug misuse and parents are asked to keep in close touch with their respective school if they have any concerns of this sort. Schools, families and local services and the police need to work together to educate young people to resist and not become caught up in this insidious problem.

Many areas in the Thames Valley are affluent and this may well be contributing to the increased availability and use of drugs. Peer pressure is usually the main reason that young people get involved in drug use and, after alcohol, cannabis in its various forms, including the vaping of THC (the active chemical component of cannabis oil) is the main drug used, though it often serves as an entry-level drug, providing a gateway to other, more dangerous drugs, over time.

Additionally, there has been an alarming growth in the use of other drugs by young people, including ketamine and cocaine. The local police patrol areas known to be used by young people for anti-social behaviour and for the purpose of selling or consuming drugs. Police also target people involved in dealing drugs. In conjunction with Thames Valley Police and partner agencies we have provided the following information, which you might find helpful.

Drug classifications: Under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, illegal drugs are placed into one of three classes – A, B or C. This is broadly based on the harm they cause, either to the user, or to society when they are misused. The class into which a drug is placed affects the maximum penalty for an offence involving the drug. For example, Class A drugs attract the most severe penalty as they are considered likely to cause the most serious harm. Drugs controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act are illegal to possess, produce, sell or give away.

Cannabis: Cannabis (also known as marijuana, weed, pot, dope or grass) is the most widely used illegal drug in the UK. The effects of cannabis vary from person to person: ● you may feel chilled out, relaxed and happy ● some people get the giggles or become more talkative ● hunger pangs (“the munchies”) are common ● colours may look more intense and music may sound better ● time may feel like it’s slowing down Cannabis can have other effects too: ● if you’re not used to it, you may feel faint or sick ● it can make you sleepy and lethargic ● it can affect your memory ● it makes some people feel confused, anxious or paranoid, and some experience panic attacks and hallucinations – this is more common with stronger forms of cannabis like skunk or sinsemilla ● it interferes with your ability to drive safely.

If you use cannabis regularly, it can make you demotivated and uninterested in other things going on in your life, such as education or work. Long-term use can affect your ability to learn and concentrate and if you mix cannabis with tobacco to smoke it, you risk getting tobacco-related lung diseases, such as lung cancer and chronic pulmonary obstructive disease (COPD). The risk of harm from cannabis, including the risk of schizophrenia (Mental Health), is higher if you start using it regularly in your teens. One reason for this is that, during the teenage years, the brain is still growing and forming its connections, and cannabis interferes with this process*.

*taken from NHS https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/healthy-body/cannabis-the-facts/

What is THC? Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the main psychoactive compound in marijuana/cannabis so is a class B drug. Why is THC so dangerous? THC bought illegally is always unsafe, especially because it can also have unknown additives within the vape chemical. Some of these are capable of inducing extreme suicidal actions and psychotic episodes, even after just a few puffs. Some of the additives have been shown to induce psychotic episodes in up to 85% of those who took the substance.

How is THC taken? Using a cartridge in a vape pen. This is becoming commonplace with young people. Why is THC popular? It is almost odourless and gives an instant high lasting for several minutes. THC oil is illegal and, therefore, cannot be used legally in e-cigarettes. Its use can result in a criminal record.

Ketamine: Ketamine is a very powerful anaesthetic that can cause serious harm. Taking ketamine can be fatal, particularly if it is mixed with other drugs. It has many physical and mental health risks. It is used as a hallucinogen, and commonly taken by sniffing (snorting) the powder, swallowed in a cigarette paper parcel (bombing), rubbed under the tongue (dabbing) or by injecting into the bloodstream. It is a class B drug which means it’s illegal to have for yourself, give away or sell.

Escalation and Consequences: 32% of people between the ages of 16 and 24 become frequent users after having experienced cannabis for the first time. The maximum prison sentence just for possession of a class B drug is 5 years. Giving or supplying drugs to someone else, even friends, can result in up to a 14 year prison sentence and/or an unlimited fine. Is your child regularly asking for money?

An indication of current street prices for some drugs:

Recreational drug use: A major opportunity for drug supply and experimentation is at private parties in students’ homes. Music Festivals are increasingly seen as a dangerous place for young people, when it comes to exposure to drugs, which is now commonplace at such events. Nitrous oxide (laughing gas) is also increasingly used in canister form and has been widely available at summer festivals. When mixed with alcohol it is extremely dangerous. Crime at festivals is now a major problem for Police and parents need to think hard about the age at which they allow their children to attend festivals. If you do allow your children to go, we’d urge you to have a frank and open conversation about drugs and the likelihood of crime scenarios.

The impact of social media: Parents need to understand that connecting to a source of illegal drugs no longer requires establishing a relationship with someone supplying; nor even having a contact number. Signing up to an Instagram feed or linking on Snapchat or WhatsApp app or numerous other platforms would enable anyone interested to receive constant updates several times a day on what is available locally and pricing. From that point, purchase and delivery is one or two clicks. Like any product, purchase can be made cashless through app or money transfer, delivery within minutes to any point.

Pricing of most illegal drugs, including Class A drugs, is within the scope of the normal average U.K. pocket money for a teenager. Moreover, within a message group, seeing one person commit to buying a drug, soon followed by another, normalises the activity and dehumanises a profound and high risk decision, making spread of drug activity within a peer group more likely and harder to resist as an individual.

Alcohol supply: It is an offence to supply alcohol to someone under 18. The exception to this is if they are aged 16 or over; are dining on licensed premises and are accompanied by an adult. This still only permits the consumption of beer, cider or wine. Anyone found guilty of alcohol supply may face a court appearance, a fine or imprisonment. Parents are now the main providers of alcohol for this age group (60%). Giving alcohol to your children’s friends (who are under the age of 18) in your house is not an offence, neither is buying alcohol for your own child if they are aged under 18, but you should act responsibly when allowing your children and their friends to drink in your home and you should consider strict parental supervision.

Knife crime: In addition to concerns over drugs we are seeing an increase in knife crime among our young people. Much of this is associated with wider criminal activity with clear links to drug supply and use. The possible consequences of knife crime are clear, and we would urge parents to act on any suspicions or concerns that you may have.

Given the Police advice and guidance about what would appear to be an increasingly worrying national picture, we feel it would be useful if all parents were to sit down with their children and discuss these issues relating to drugs. Although your GP may not be readily available, please always include them in the loop, as they have much experience in this area and can provide the most immediate support you might need.

Should you require any support for a child you are concerned about or are thinking about your own drug use, please consider contacting one of the various services shown below:

Bucks: SwitchBucks is a drug service for young people in Buckinghamshire. Tel: 01494 527000 email: switchbucks@cranstoun.org.uk Website: cranstoun.org/switch-bucks

One Recovery Bucks is the adult substance misuse service for Buckinghamshire. They also provide family and carer support for those who are impacted by other people’s use. 0300 772 9672 and https://onerecoverybucks.org/

RBWM: If you live in the Royal Borough of Windsor & Maidenhead and are experiencing problems with alcohol and/ or drugs, you can contact Resilience for a free and confidential service. Resilience offers a range of services which can help you to safely reduce or stop your alcohol and/or drug use. Please call the Resilience team direct on 01628 796733, email: admin@resilience-rbwm.org.uk

Young people’s substance misuse service: This service is for under-18s who need help with their drug or alcohol use, and also supports young people who have a family member with a drug or alcohol problem. Tel: 07766 628970 or email: YouthServices@achievingforchildren.org.uk.

Other useful information: www.talktofrank.com and www.drugwise.org.uk

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Exploring being human, be that real, digital, virtual or hybrid

The following blog arose from my attendance at the ISC Digital Strategy conference, on whose organising committee I sit and make a contribution. The 2019 Digital Strategy magazine can be found here, and my article on our school’s contribution can be found on pp27-30.

At the close of the 2019, Ian Yorston, Head of Digital Strategy at Radley College set a closing challenge in asking us to look at the purpose of education for humans, and how we should respond to the challenges posed by working in a ‘digital’ world, and then the ‘virtual’ world beyond. From the panel members, perhaps the firmest agreed response for educational direction to our children in our schools was that by Mark Anderson (@ICTevangelist) – “Above all, be kind”.

At my school we run a PSHE course through secondary, the focus being ‘Exploring being Human’, with 5 modules (Learning, Kindness, Relationships, Mindfulness and Resilience).  I suspect we wish the success criteria for all of these to be the same; that our students (and staff) get to learn to know what they think and do about each – in short, improving their meta-cognition and understanding meta-purpose.

Ian Yorston’s 3 Humans have already become 4 (the Hybrid), with the arrival of combination people/machines, though the spectacles, hearing aid and pacemaker have been joined by both robot and biological augmentations. Assisting our children through these ideas has always been one of the great purposes of literature, whether that be Aesop’s fables, Gulliver’s travels, Pinochio, ‘I Robot’ etc. You’ll recall that even at the dawn of writing as the first information technology, Socarates railed against it, ‘Your invention will enable them to hear many things without being properly taught, and they will imagine that they have come to know much while for the most part they will know nothing. And they will be difficult to get along with, since they will merely appear to be wise instead of really being so.”1

Through the focus of our Digital Strategy ideas and the locus of our 2019 conference, I think we have explored some of the key features and tensions in education, as well as showcased some of the possibilities for the future. This is the great ‘win’ in running a conference where thought leaders come together and think collectively in short rapid bursts. I did not attend the conference to be entertained but to learn, to become more aware and it has dawned on me ‘to be metacognitive about my next metapurpose’. To understand how AI is assisting humans just now, this article courtesy LinkedIn is worth a read:

Forbes continues their story on the Power of Purpose and Saqib Shaikh shares stories of people impacted by Seeing AI. (Part 2) https://lnkd.in/g9Jknbj

I know for certain why I won’t permit Year 11 and below pupils’ own small screens in use in my school; because the tendancy is for such screens to be always on and provide unfiltered and unfettered access to stimulants that engage and divert children’s attention. Adolescent addiction to screens is a major concern, because of the way they stimulate through dopamine release, though we know their digital tools can be of immense value. That’s why we provide wall-to-wall chromebooks at schools, so that access to the tools and data in the cloud is reliably available, within our ‘walled garden’ of @clairescourt.net of course 

Soldiers in conflict are now routinely provided with stimulants to ensure they are alert, more responsive and perceptive, and learn better in the same way we also medicate children with ADHD to gain similar improvements. We would not agree that all of our children should be medicated in this way because we know that running engaging and exciting lessons causes the same positive dopamine response, aiding learning without the need for chemical stimulant. Nor do we wish our students to suffer the raft of problems the soldiers post conflict now have to cope with, as indicated by the huge spike in PTSD in our veterans.  Correlation is not causation of course, but whatever we do we must aim to align positive educational outcomes with positive ways of working and, where possible, spot and block recommended solutions that encourage inappropriate endorphin release during the active learning cycle.2

At boarding school, I was caned relentlessly, and can’t and don’t speak of my alma mater with any affection at all. It was the arrival at university, where I encountered for the first time in 5 years a learning environment that was not built on fear and loathing, where I rediscovered my love for learning first gained at the prep school, where I now lead. Sir Anthony Seldon is surely right now in shining a light on the apparent peer-group requirement that University students should engage in social drug taking on entry to their first year.3  Seldon argues powerfully that these late adolescents are only emerging adults and need stronger pastoral care than currently on offer.  I feel we should keep our light shone fully on emerging technologies, specifically where they are suggested as lubricants for learning, not just because they could be ‘snake oil’ but because they will remove our students from the childhood they deserve to enjoy for a little longer. 

I am told that some secondary state sector colleagues are in a new frenzy around the curriculum because their regulator Ofsted are requiring them to gather the arts and technologies anew.  They no longer have the benefits of a ‘benign state’ providing them with one already prescribed. Many independent schools have this frenzy too, but they won’t shout the odds of course because “why, how and what we teach” has always been our responsibility. As cloud technology is now used though across the piece in our best schools, I suspect we have the courage to determine that children in our schools can enjoy their childhood with the support of this set of tools, not in spite of them, gathering all the benefits that biology, technology and hybridisation can bring. In the same way a ‘reveille’ can be a gentle shake or a trumpet blast, I feel the ISC Digital Strategy leaders can be ‘Heralds’ for 2020 too, optimistic for the future for all children in our schools’.

James Wilding, Claires Court, 29 November 2019

1.http://neamathisi.com/literacies/chapter-1-literacies-on-a-human-scale/socrates-on-the-forgetfulness-that-comes-with-writing

2.https://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/22/opinion/sunday/why-are-we-drugging-our-soldiers.html?mtrref=www.google.com&gwh=F24475C99A81F990C3C59598EA81015D&gwt=pay&assetType=REGIWALL

3.https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/anthony-seldon-why-im-making-the-university-of-buckingham-drug-free-2sxg5n0nj

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