13th February 2017
“We had simply the best day ever with your BARK team of students, thanks for all your preparation and all help to date. It was lovely to work with you and share ideas for the future. On our initial brainstorm meeting we did think your chosen group were mature, enthusiastic and were about to bring a great deal of creative skill along to this project.
Today I could say that their behaviour was exemplary, but that simply would not describe all that they were! We witnessed a desire to learn with complete engagement from the start. Autonomous learning was evident in all students, which resulted in Tom our artist commenting that it was brilliant to see young people able to make their own progress working independently where possible but also being able to communicate development needs in a clear way asking all the right questions at the right time.
Students worked in teams well but it was remarkable to see the whole group support each other as a complete unit. Any individual who was not as confident was soon scooped up by the group and mentored in skills and made to feel a part of it all. Artistic skill aside for a moment, your young people are a huge credit to Wyedean full of empathy and consideration for others in such a positive and encouraging way. And boy did they all have fun in the process with confidence and energy all channelled in the right direction.”
Email to Wyedean School, 7th Feb, 2017, Susan and all at JGC BARK Team
It’s actually difficult where to start to describe a “typical” week in Wyedean at the moment. It’s the end of half term, the middle of February, still cold and gloomy, Friday was an INSET for the students and staff working on key school priorities and all were waiting for the end of the day when the half term break began and colleagues can then enjoy a well-deserved break with their families. My colleagues in MFL, led by Beky Simpson, have just touched down in Barcelona for their KS4 visit to that amazing Catalan city as part of their Spanish studies and the annual Ski trip, led by Dai Thomas, are off to Austria with students to catch the winter slopes. My thanks to colleagues for giving their holiday time to ensure students of Wyedean get these opportunities to enrich their learning and build their experiences. There are already some really lovely Tweets on the PE, MFL and Wyedean Twitter accounts.
We had Ritsumeikan High School, Japan, with us all week topping off an unusually rich global education week even by Wyedean’s standards for compelling international learning. The staff and students from our partner school in Japan have really made themselves at home in our school and some of the events and opportunities over the last few days have been just wonderful days in learning. As it should be. Again, pictures and videos of their visit to Wyedean are on the school social media sites. I had a fair few Japanese students come and join us for tea and coffee on Thursday for Critical Thinking with Year 11. We had a really interesting discussion about wellbeing for young people and whether or not a “finishing line” exists anymore as pressure intensifies on students to achieve. It was interesting to talk about the experience of the Japanese education system compared to the English one and I remember from my own time working with schools in SE Asia the long hours, the endless assessments and overall pressure young people seemed to be under in these education systems. A wellbeing balance needs to found somewhere and I used the American movement “Beyond Measure” and the recent book-film by Vicki Ableles to illustrate how this is changing.
Israeli and international jazz musician, Asaf Sirkis, very kindly came into Wyedean to deliver masterclasses to music students and my thanks to colleagues Pat Allard and Brian Ellam for arranging for students to get this unique exposure to a global performer in music. I was very encouraged to see the engagement and confidence of Year 9 students presenting in the FameLab school finals for Science-STEM and I look forward to having tea with all the finalists after half term to celebrate their success. This is a great way of building self-esteem and getting students involved in science and just wider problem solving. This is the future of education serving C21st needs and my thanks to my colleagues in Science especially Stuart Motson, for organising these events. The work and creativity of Wyedean students in Art with the BARK team, the feedback I have quoted at length at the start of this blog, illustrates again what a rich and broad curriculum should be doing in schools. Nick Gibb MP, the education minister, has recently released a DfE paper on the importance of the Arts in a broad holistic curriculum for all students and yet at the same time the funding is being severely cut in education and even Andreas Schleicher, education director of the OECD, warned the UK that not investing in education would damage the future prosperity of Britain. Let’s hope someone listens. On Thursday, we held a non-uniform day collecting for research into prostate cancer and what was unusual about this charity collection is that it came from one Year 10 student’s leadership; Amyleigh Brice, motivated because of a close family member’s battle with this cancer. The future is in very good hands with students like this showing exactly the sort of skills, empathy and leadership needed for a successful global society and economic.
I had a very interesting conference last week at Cheltenham Race Course for Gloucestershire school leaders focusing on a “Road Map to Outstanding” which wasn’t exactly how the Regional Schools’ Commissioner for the SW, Rebecca Clark, much to the consternation of school leaders in the room, saw the county right now and said so in her speech. In fact, we also found out the Forest of Dean is a priority area in the South West and we discussed at length at the West Glos’ School Group a couple of days later what this actually means for education in the Forest. I think we all agreed that a strategy including further collaboration, partnership, sharing of good practice and professional network support was the way forward for students and families of the Forest of Dean. Simon Rowe, OfSTED HMI for Gloucestershire all spoke at Cheltenham and was the lead inspector last time for Wyedean in November 2014. When I spoke with him he did point out “Wyedean must be due soon”. All I can say for Wyedean School is we can be looked at by anyone at any time and as Challenge Partners found in the autumn the quality of education and the high standards continue and every member of staff is committed to the very best educational experience and outcomes for all of our students. At the regular Full Governors meeting before the break this is what we shared with governors and also reflected on how being involved in the school improvement network Challenge Partners had significantly impacted Wyedean’s journey to outstanding as a high performing school. Looking forward to showing OfSTED this in the autumn or potentially any day before. In England, the inspection system is a lot more rigorous and is not geared up to allow schools 6 or 7 years to the day until they are seen again.
I am speaking at the annual ASCL conference in March for the British Council showcasing the work we are doing at Wyedean and I am now involved in a special weekly TED global education conference lasting until May. This is through the University of Illinois and involves a small of group of educators in Europe and North America working collaboratively online each work looking at comparative education systems and essentially what is that we need to be teaching students so they are learning the right things for the C21st and how we should be doing that. It really is a privilege to have been chosen to represent Wyedean and our school community in this global education forum and I took part in the opening session this weekend.
I am looking forward to time with my wife and kids, not walking Dylan, my dog, at such an unearthly hour for a week and getting away to see family in mid-Wales in Llanidloes. I am not even going to mention the rugby at all in this blog after Saturday. I know all exam groups are starting to feel everything moving up a gear or two but hopefully plenty of rest and downtime this break to prepare for the next few months ahead. There is a finishing line in education and it is the responsibility of all of us; educators, parents and students to make sure we don’t lose the essence of meaningful and effective learning in the race to get to that line. More weeks in education as we enjoyed in Wyedean last week. My great Canadian leadership hero, Michael Fullan, once wrote a book about “What’s worth fighting for in education?”. A week such as last week and many others and the education system being allowed to focus on teachers and support staff providing these opportunities. Students coming home to tell parents, unprompted “guess what we did today in school?”. That’s what is worth fighting for in education. Have a good break.
3rd February 2017
“The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it but that it is too low and we reach it” Michaelangelo
I had quite a humbling moment last Thursday at the British Council in London when I got into a long conversation with the Education Minister from Ethiopia, Dr Tilaye Gete Ambaye, just before I was due to speak at the World Education Forum. We were talking general concerns that I faced as a principal of a school in England and of course I went through the TES’s standard Friday issue list of articles from funding cuts, Progress 8, MATs, grammar schools, new qualifications this summer in English and Math and so forth. Dr Ambaye then responded by talking through the issues schools in Ethiopia face. When I spoke to the very distinguished audience my focus came back to the comparative nature of education around the globe. The similarities in terms of engagement of learning, technology, pedagogy, stretch and challenge, are all there whenever you talk to any educator from anywhere in the World. The differences become apparent when resources and finances come into the mix. Dr Ambaye certainly “closed shut” my TES list as he went through what schools, communities, parents, teachers and students face daily in Ethiopia. But he made sure I got his last point that education was valued above all else and all had high expectations and aspirations no matter what the classroom looked like or how many students there were to one teacher sharing so few battered text books. One of the sights that still stays with me from my time in Bandung, Indonesia is the bamboo shack accommodation at the back of one of the schools that housed dozens of 14-16 year old students being looked after by a “nanny” because these students wanted to continue with education after compulsory education finished at 14. They were away from their families and villages in the hills around Bandung and were enduring this situation because they wanted to learn so desperately and they needed to continue their education to break their cycle of poverty in West Java. I cannot think of anything more humbling as an educator when I think back and it certainly left its indelible impression on me as a teacher when I think about the duty of care and responsibility we have towards our young people. I sat in the Gloucester Heads meeting the next day after the conference in London listening to the various discussions and one of the most pressing discussion points for the county schools is the government’s proposals on the national funding formula. I want to say now no school leader wants to take money off a school struggling in another part of the country. It has been raised by school leaders and organisations this week about the £385 million allotted in May 2016 to developing more MATs that has suddenly disappeared back into the Treasury. When schools across England are struggling with real term funding cuts of 10% over the last few years and reducing quality education in their schools back to the minimum why can’t this money be found to fund a World Class education system? Surely the reason why China, South Korea, Singapore, Canada et al fund their education so well is to ensure that the next generation are not only good citizens but they are building the skills for the economic wealth for the future prosperity of society.
My Monday this week started off as it normally does with answering emails at 7am at my desk in my study in school, writing up the weekly briefing for staff for the 8:35 meeting, holding the daily operational meeting at 8:10 with the leadership team, say good morning to sleepy (eager to learn…) students starting school after the weekend and on the with another week. This week, same routine only at 9am the Lions Club of Chepstow came into school to present Trinity Jones in Year 11 a special award for her recent exceptional progress and a £75 Amazon voucher. As we had a photo taken at the front of school I noticed she was beaming. Rightly so. Her school principal was bursting with pride at the same time. I was also extremely proud looking at the tweets from the University of Bristol on Wednesday as Lucy Roberts, our Latin and Classics coordinator, spoke to a special conference in the Wills memorial building about the developments and huge impact here of the subjects. The Wyedean Warrior sporting success also goes from strength to strength and earlier this week the badminton teams in the county finals in Stroud acquitted themselves well. I have invited them to have a celebratory lunch next week to mark their success. Nice to be a proud principal.
In the week the British Parliament voted to allow the government to trigger Article 50 next month and start negotiations to leave the EU I held a wonderful Skype Classroom talk with staff and students of partner school Gheorghe Asachi High School in Chisinau, the capital of Moldova. My thanks to the brilliant educator and eTwinning Ambassador, Tatiana Popa, and her wonderful students who spent over an hour talking about their favourite books, President Trump and his first actions in the White House, the EU and Brexit as well as Moldova’s own delicate relationship as a former USSR republic with Putin’s Russia. There are moments in this role when you occasionally question your sanity and what you are doing and there are moments when you are engaging with young people like the students 3000kms away on the other side of Europe and you are just bowled away by their hope, intelligence and their faith in education. I need more of these opportunities in global learning.
One more week until we break up for half term. I know this is a shorter term after Christmas but it is astonishing how much work gets accomplished and how many important decisions get taken now that have a huge impact later in the school year. Henry Adams once said: “A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops”. Lucy and Tatiana will no doubt be enjoying a deserved rest this weekend but despite being on the opposite ends of Europe in two very different countries they have both given opportunities and compelling learning to their students that will resonate and influence long after this particular time in February at the start of the year has been forgotten. As Dr Ambaye said in London to me, the hope he has for his country whatever the state of the world, lies in the optimism of education and its transformational power of good in the lives of ordinary people.
Global Learning in the 21st Century – Guest blog posted for Show My Homework/Satchel
23rd January 2017
"We must accept finite disappointment but never lose infinite hope" Martin Luther King Jr
The words of MLK could apply to any number of situations not least a strong resonance to anyone gearing themselves up for the start of the Six Nations at the start of February. Wyedean Warriors have enjoyed some New Year success with the Year 10 Boys football team winning the district football tournament last week. Netball, Badminton and hockey teams are in action this coming week. I spoke to Year 7 on Friday morning about this time being a moment in history with the inauguration of a new president as well as the UK government’s position on what sort of Brexit becoming clearer ahead of Article 50 being triggered in March. These momentous World events are providing an interesting back-drop to the everyday life of the school but it is precisely the everyday that is moving us forward. The Year 9s went through their Options Evening on Thursday and this coming Thursday Year 11s have their consultation evening. The Sixth Form applications closed formally, even though we are still taking more applications, and we topped over 200 applying to come to Wyedean for this September. Linked to the recent news on nearly 200 first choice applications for new Year 7s this autumn it is a strong endorsement from our students and community in Gloucestershire and Monmouthshire that the curriculum, learning, achievement and education at Wyedean school fits in with their aspirations for what they want from their school. As I walk around the school daily I see this in every classroom and how hard my colleagues are working to deliver quality education for the young people in our care.
Part of the strategy for Wyedean School over the last couple of years is not just re-engagement and strengthening the ties with our community but also as an academy being able to develop our own partnerships for school improvement, transition and developing further compelling learning opportunities. We are pleased to have become a strategic secondary school partner in the West Forest Primary Group of schools and last week, Martin Jenkins, vice principal for pastoral, attended the regional conference for Challenge Partners with our fellow CP schools in Portsmouth. The Music department has been involved in an incredible collaboration project with the Gloucester Vocal project that is currently running a special masterclass stretch and challenge programme with Year 8 throughout the next 10 weeks. The wider enrichment of music in this school and our commitment to music in the curriculum is sadly something disappearing in so many schools with the ongoing budget cuts.
I have the huge honour of speaking at the World Education Forum in London on Thursday at the invite of the British Council to talk about the curriculum, community involvement and global learning work of Wyedean School to an audience which will include education ministers and policy makers from around the World. Getting the opportunity, in the words of Quaker George Fox to Oliver Cromwell, to literally speak truth to power. The DfE released official figures last week for the 2016 summer examinations using the new accountable measurement of Progress 8 and Attainment 8. This is also the summer where English and Maths are undertaking the new specifications with the numerical grading. Wyedean is in a fairly unique position because only around half of our Year 11 are included in the figure because of a sizeable chunk of our students coming to us from Monmouthshire. Statistically we did fine, still with room for improvement but interestingly a lot of the debates between educators and parents on social media focussed on the magnitude of the Gove reforms now hitting schools linked to the real term spending cuts of around 10% linked to a perceived confused DfE strategy for education. I did highlight this to my leadership team as we discussed at length the curriculum model for September 2017 onwards against this backdrop and actually trying to keep true to what our students need in terms of skills, knowledge, education for the 21st Century. Wyedean School is working with the International Baccalaureate with the aim offering IB programmes linked to the school vision of global education. Education in schools at all Key Stages has to be much more that a narrowing set of foundation skills being offered in state schools. If Theresa May’s vision for Britain is to be more “global” as she said last Tuesday, in a fragmenting multi-polar world with economic power shifting eastwards then a dynamic knowledge economy is the way schools should be developing their curriculum to allow a breadth and depth of sorts of skills and knowledge to equip young people for the challenges their generation will face in this century.
I even shared with my Leadership Team an overlooked paragraph in the DfE’s circular this month on Progress 8 which I will share in full here:
The performance measures are designed to encourage schools to offer a broad and balanced curriculum with a focus on an academic core at key stage 4, and reward schools for the teaching of all their pupils, measuring performance across 8 qualifications…Schools should continue to focus on which qualifications are most suitable for individual pupils, as the grades pupils achieve will help them reach their goals for the next stage of their education or training.
The great champion of Pupil Premium, John Dunford, wrote a great article in the TES on the 17th Jan extolling schools to remember; 'Despite the avalanche of change, it is still possible for schools to develop a curriculum fit for the 21st century'
I heard John speak to Gloucester Heads last year and he is always worth listening to especially on this issue. I think the infinite hope has to be that despite some despondency and disappointment in what has been allowed to happen to education under all colours of recent governments, we can still ensure the curriculum and education excites, captures and grows the minds of our young people still resonating as they progress long after their school days are over. But by then they have become lifelong learners and good global citizens in the process.
10th January 2017
"January is like the Monday of the months"
"Write it on your heart that every day is the best day of the year" Ralph Waldo Emerson
It’s not even close to the supposedly worst day of the year, Blue Monday, which takes place on the third Monday of January. Personally I have never had too many issues with the month of January and the first day back after the break students and staff seemed fine with being back in school and picking up where we left off just before Christmas. Year 11s have just completed their Sixth Form taster days in school and Year 12s are beginning their formal mocks. This term sees a lot of reporting and follow up consultation evenings and it is a great opportunity to meet and discuss with parents the progress of their child as well as what we can all do work together to further support students.
I was invited to a meeting in Bristol on Friday with a small number of principals and CEOs across the South West to talk with the National Schools Commissioner, Sir David Carter, and the SW Regional Schools Commissioner, Rebecca Clarke. Sir David is an astonishing educator not just because of his work at Cabot Learning Federation or as the RSC for the SW but the work he has done at a national level on school improvement. Someone told me recently that Sir David was “the smartest person in the room”. As I listened to him make sense of current education policy in a very honest but positive way on Friday I thought to myself he is probably the smartest person in every room. It was a real pleasure and privilege for Wyedean School to be invited to this round table dialogue. As I left the busy Friday afternoon city centre and drove home up the M32 to North Bristol the thoughts in my head from the dialogue kept echoing around how much we are doing on the right things at Wyedean to improve education and life chances for all of our students.
My colleagues in the Music department were phenomenally busy throughout December participating in events throughout the community and this week they are involved in a special ten week masterclass course for Year 8s through the music hub initiative based in Gloucester. It is sad to hear of schools where the curriculum has been reduced really to a set of basic skills and no real breadth of curriculum in exciting and creative subjects because they no longer exist for that school. Students need all sorts of intellectual challenges and wider curriculum exposure and I am proud to say that Wyedean School has been asked to speak about its global education and learning at the World Education Conference in London on the 26th January. This is the largest gathering of education ministers and policy makers from around the World at a special event sponsored by the British Council. On the 1st Feb we will be speaking at a Classics/Latin conference at the University of Bristol about the development of the subjects in the curriculum at Wyedean School – not a normal thing for a state school and my colleagues, students and parents know the enrichment and intellectual curiosity this has brought since we started the initiative. On Saturday 7th January Y12 student Joshua Hicks competed in ‘Champions of Tomorrow 2017’, a national Latin and Ballroom championships in Blackpool’s Winter Gardens. Year 12 student, Joshua Hicks, and his new partner, Sophie Hayward, competed in the U35 Novice Latin and Ballroom championships – winning both. To win both disciplines at national championships is a huge achievement - something that hasn’t been achieved for a decade. Joshua and Sophie were the youngest competitors in the U35 category, aged just 16, and from score sheets they were unanimously the judge’s champions. As a result of their achievements Joshua and Sophie are now part of Latin and Ballroom history – Roll of Honours. To add to this triumphant achievement Joshua and Sophie, who are part of the Dance Associations National League (NL) are currently top U35 Ballroom and Latin dancers in the league. Due to this Joshua and Sophie will compete in the National League Championships in July, hoping to take the NL title. This is by invite only – top 12 in the country will compete.
I have Spanish friends from a school I work with in Barcelona who have a tradition as the clock strikes midnight on the 31st December to eat as many grapes (or olives) as possible within the bongs to gain as many wishes for the coming year. I was very tempted to try this one out this New Year’s Eve looking at the prospect of 2017. My wife nearly bought “I survived 2016” t shirts. The long walk with the dog, family and German visitors on the first day of the year made me think though more about what I hoped and wanted for from 2017. Trump and Brexit are two things that we are going to live with and get used to so I have decided not to dwell too much on this. It was the words of Michelle Obama that gave me hope as an educator in her last public speech as First Lady when she said:
“Lead by example, with hope not fear” and she urged young people to work hard and get a good education. Abigail Adams and Eleanor Roosevelt, add another to the Pantheon. Over to you Ivanka.
I know education funding will get worse, not better and that education policy will continue to be confusing as schools and educators try to see the strategy around MATs, academies and grammar schools. I hope we really do see the development of a “shared society” as the UK goes forward. But leading with hope and not fear means continuing our day to day education in this small corner of the borders that challenges and equips our young people effectively to deal with their ever changing complex World. That’s my 2017 resolution. Have a great year ahead.
16th December 2016
“My idea of Christmas, whether old-fashioned or modern, is very simple: loving others. Come to think of it, why do we have to wait for Christmas to do that?” Bob Hope
I spoke to a group of colleagues a week ago who seemed to sum up my own feelings about this term; so much good has happened over the last few months at Wyedean School that we don’t want the term to end but at the same time staff and students are exhausted and cannot wait for the break for Christmas to re-charge batteries ready for January 2017. Both the Year 6 and Year 11 Open Evenings this term have been opportunities to again show off Wyedean School at its best to our local communities both sides of the river Wye. The huge increase in student applications is testament to the excellent teaching, the educational opportunities and the nurturing/caring learning environment at Wyedean School. This was validated completely with the Challenge Partners Review visit over 3 days in November as they looked at all aspects of the school. My English and Latin colleague, Julie Smith, contributed a significant article in December to the Times Educational Supplement (TES) on the development and approach of ongoing teacher training here at Wyedean. Baroness Royall, the former leader of the House of Lords, came to speak to students a few weeks ago and complimented them for being “confident, articulate and could challenge in a good way”. This incredible model of developing student leadership has been evident in a range of ways this term from the BTEC students who have set up and are running a commercial café in 6th Form, to the students who took part in creating the study/learning garden at the start of December to the critical thinking students who have debated Brexit, Syria and Trump with students in schools around the World over Skype and sat in Windsor Castle alongside eminent business and academics for the day in October debating a positive narrative for their generation.
The various Wyedean Warriors sports teams have enjoyed considerable success this term and you can read more in the school’s Dec 2016 newsletter on the website. The Music Dept has been heavily involved in the community supporting a range of concerts and events with their choirs and bands. I sat and watched them in St Mary’s Chepstow this week and was just amazed at the depth of talent and confidence our young people of this school have. Hearing John Denver’s “Country Road”, a particular family favourite of mine, being performed beautifully on the harp in that beautiful church will carry me through the cold and winter gloom of the January and February days when we return in 2017.
I know a lot of people who will be glad to see the back of 2016 for various reasons, a few reasons already referenced above. The national education picture both in England and Wales is probably one of the worst I can remember as an educator in terms of the funding crisis, PISA results in Wales and the recent green paper on education for England to name but a few. But I only have to walk around the school and see the energy and optimism of the staff and students. I know that the focus will continue in 2017 to be on giving these young people in our care the best educational environment to support and nurture their development to take their place in the World with hope and confidence. I invite you to see some of the things that your children have been doing this term in the December 2016 newsletter to see what I mean. We also post on Twitter, Facebook, school website etc daily the learning and enrichment that together with the curriculum makes Wyedean a beacon of educational excellence. In early January I have been invited to a special meeting with the National Schools Commissioner, Sir David Carter, to talk about the experience of Wyedean and at the end of January I have the huge honour of being asked to speak in London at the invite of the British Council at the Education World Forum which is the world’s largest gathering of Education Ministers and policy makers. There will be plenty to talk about at both. We all need a positive narrative for 2017.
I wish you and your families a restful, enjoyable Christmas and a hopeful 2017.
25th November 2016
"Following a period of turbulence when the school was in special measures and staff felt very pressurised, the new Headteacher has worked tirelessly to develop a culture of openness, transparency and trust. In particular, leaders have been empowered and are enjoying the freedom to innovate. As a result, the school now has a clear vision and is a harmonious place where everyone feels valued. This is helping to drive school improvement because all stakeholders are pulling in the same direction." Challenge Partners Review Report: Wyedean School, Nov 2016.
"Really enjoyed my conversation with sixth form @WyedeanSchool on Friday. Confident, articulate youngsters, we didn't always agree - healthy." Baroness Royall after her visit to Wyedean 25th Nov
The progress markers of the school year are flying by right now as this long term suddenly starts to show an end in sight with the glitter of Christmas holidays starting to infect a lot of conversations in hallways and classrooms. We have our Sixth Form Open Evening here on Thursday 1st December. As much as this is the evening to show our community just how good Post 16 Education is at Wyedean I also have a sneaking thought that it is also a good excuse to get Christmas trees, real NOT fake, from the Forest of Dean up and decorated around the school to remind us the holidays are not far away. For the Year 11s this probably cannot come too soon and they finish their two week formal mocks at the end of the fortnight. I would say most of Year 11 are already in the mind-set of looking at life beyond GCSEs and have spent most of the autumn term looking at schools and colleges for their potential post 16 futures. We were very fortunate to host Baroness Royall on Friday as she spoke to Sixth Form and upper school students. Lady Royall was Labour Leader of the House of Lords under Gordon Brown. In a “post-truth” World it is refreshing to know young people are debating issues with politicians like Jan Royall, disagreeing, having debate but all engaged in respectful dialogue.
The question I gave to my Year 10 critical thinking group this week was "does the means justify the ends?" I thought about this as like all schools we received our data analysis (RaiseOnline) for the Key Stage 4 2016 results. This is the first year of the changes on accountability measures with all English schools being measured by "Progress 8" as schools no longer report on how many students received five GCSEs above C including English and Maths. The current Year 11 will also be the first cohort in England to undertake English and Maths qualifications using the new numerical grading with other GCSE subjects to follow. It’s been a difficult one for all schools to plan, implement and undertake some of these fundamental changes especially if you include KS3 "assessment without Levels" changes. Don’t get me started on education funding. The Chancellor, Philip Hammond, said nothing about increasing education funding in the Autumn Statement which the Institute of Fiscal Studies has reported earlier this year that education has suffered a real terms cut of 8%. When I meet other school leaders as I did the other Friday at a meeting at Royal Wootton Bassett Academy the only conversation around the room is about where are you saving money and which further cuts will you have to make? In all of this the demands on more from the education system grows. It will be interesting to see the PISA findings next month as England is compared to other leading education systems. For Wales, it is predicted PISA will only show even further decline in key standards of English, Maths and Science.
For Wyedean School the report from Challenge Partners on our school has been a fantastic validation of the work we have done to make sure not only is the school fulfilling its core function, meeting DfE requirements, balancing the budget but we are also being innovative and creative in the educational outcomes and opportunities for our young people in Monmouthshire and the Forest of Dean. I will be sharing the report with all parents and will put this on the school website. This review/inspection by Challenge Partners is a way of making sure that even though the school can expect OfSTED in 2017 the school still knows where it is and what it has to do to be even better. I found it very odd when I worked in Powys that an inspection could be over 6-7 years between inspections, to the day, and no such group of school improvement network like Challenge Partners exists west of Offa’s Dyke no matter what Cardiff has tried to emulate. It is not the original Challenge Partners that grew out of the highly regarded "London Challenge" group.
A group of senior leaders here met with a senior representative from the International Baccalaureate Organisation (IB) to talk about how Wyedean potentially becomes an "IB World School" offering programmes such as the IB Diploma and MYC. One of the reasons why being an academy is a good thing is precisely because it is the school that gets to lead on areas such as what type of curriculum and education philosophy it should be offering rather than following the diktats of the local authority or a narrow national educational agenda. The principal is a leader rather than a manager of somebody’s agenda remote from the school. Wyedean sits on the confluence of the Wye and Severn and looks out to the wider World. This is increasingly reflected in the World Class education we have in this corner of the borders. And best of all it is what our parents and students know is the right education for the 21st Century. If statisticians want to measure education by calling it "Progress 8" then that is fine but when visitors judge students as "confident and articulate" and staff as “committed and innovative” then we know Wyedean School is doing the right thing for the communities it serves.
11 November 2016
“I pray heaven to bestow the best of blessings on this house and all that shall hereafter inhabit it. May none but the wise men ever rule under this roof” - John Adams.
When Founding Father and second US president, John Adams, entered the newly built but largely undecorated White House in 1801, it is alleged he said these words as he walked around the executive mansion of the very young republic that had come into being as the United States of America officially in 1787. It was a quote beloved by a lot of subsequent US presidents and it was President No 32, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who had it inscribed on the fireplace in the state dining room of the White House. For many, it gave people not only something to think about in the caliber of their president but also the sense that the White House, unlike say a Head of State’s residence such as Buckingham Palace, was their “House”. Well, as with the British people with Brexit in the summer, earlier this week “We the people…” the American people had spoken as the Founders intended them to every four years. And very much like Brexit, at least sort of spoken. But did politicians understand what they had been trying to say? I fell asleep around 1am trying to stay up for the results on Tuesday into Wednesday and then my American friend started messaging and calling around 3am so we talked over the couple of hours as it became clear that the “blue firewall” was not holding and when Pennsylvania was called for Trump it was all over. I am sure it’s C17th Quaker founder, William Penn, would have loved the irony. People discuss the idea of “leadership” all the time in all sorts of contexts; business, political, educational, sports etc, but on Wednesday morning leadership was visible in all the major players involved and that is why there is also hope. There is always hope and every leadership theory has that in it as a component as well. “Reservoirs of optimism” I was once told, is a key element in the mindset of the school leader. You can say that again.
John Dunford, the pupil premium champion, has written a very timely helpful article in the TES on the back of the US Election results for educators; 'In these troubling times, teachers have an essential role in countering prejudice and hate'. John is right. Part of our role as educators is not only developing understanding and reasoning alongside society’s liberal values in young people but it is also to allow a forum where dialogue with students allows them to make some sense of their World. This week we had the school being reviewed by a team of fellow school leaders as part of the improvement network we are a member of, Challenge Partners. It went really well, English Learning Area was rightly confirmed as an “Area of Excellence” and the reviewers validated the changes, the positive culture at Wyedean as well as the things we need to do to continue to be a high performing school moving to “outstanding”. On Wednesday morning a group of my Year 11 Critical Thinking group turned up at my door desperate to talk about the US Election and President Elect Trump. If I hadn’t been on my way with the lead reviewer to watch my colleague Julie Smith teach Year 12 English Literature I would have stayed and spent the morning analysing the results and the likely consequences. This is probably the most important event of their lives and they are ironically the generation sandwiched between 9/11 and 11/9. I was fortunate enough to be on a History trip to West Berlin as a student when the Wall came down and standing on the Wall by the Brandenburg Tor as the DDR crumbled and people hugged and cried as soon to be united Germans, The strength of that emotion has never left my mind. Will Trump turn back the clock and start building his Wall? When I did meet my Critical Thinking group officially on Thursday morning for discussion over tea we were finally able to let rip as they say. It’s interesting the significance of the 9th Nov in German History: the day the Kaiser abdicated in 1918; the Munich Putsch in 1923; Kristallnacht in 1938 and of course the Wall coming down in 1989. And now Trump. And his family is German on his father’s side. Make of that what you will.
Standing in the silence in Tutshill this morning with the local community as we all were remembering those who fought for our freedoms I did think about how events are caused as I questioned in my mind do we appreciate at the time of the consequence of the moments like the shot at Lexington “heard around the World” or the fateful one in Sarajevo 140 years later. Did the lads of Tutshill or Sedbury understand this when World events impacted their small corner of the Forest in 1914 or 1918 or 2001? Right now there are a fair few people wondering about the magnitude and potential consequences of the events of 2016. I know a number of people will be much happier when 2016 is over. With Halloween and Bonfire Night gone the run down to Christmas is certainly on and the cold and shorter days are definitely apparent. I’ll say it again, we should adopt “Thanksgiving” at the end of November in the UK. Even just for the cornbread. I have been very lucky to have spent a few Falls in North America and taken part in some very special Thanksgiving events with American friends. It’s the America I adore and is still in the Founders words “The shining city on the hill”.
Wyedean held its Academic Mentoring Days yesterday and today and it was a real pleasure to talk with parents and students about their progress and how to support students further in their learning and development. Year 11 Mocks are at the end of the month and our Sixth Form Open Evening is on the 1st December. I have my assembly ready for Monday on the theme of “Time” hopefully not to send Year 11 to sleep with. But first, after the week of Challenge Partners, Trump’s election, Wyedean Staff at Gloucester TeachMeet (Julie Smith doing a brilliant job), Beachley Barracks to close in 2027 and Academic Mentoring it’s time to at least enjoy a quiet weekend. Can I go weekend without reading/listening/watching the news? I blame the rise of social media. For a lot of things.
21 October 2016
"Why do we commemorate so many things? Because we are a people who remember" Father Michael St.Clair speaking at the anniversary of Aberfan.
I walked my children to school this morning in the bright autumn sunshine. I dropped them off, hugged and kissed them, wished them a good day in class and watched them skip into school with their friends to be greeted by their teachers. It’s hard not to weep reading or hearing any of the testimonies from the tragedy that happened to the Welsh mining community in Aberfan fifty years ago today, as raw now with emotion as it much have felt then. I read about one rescuer who had found the body of the deputy head teacher, Mr Beynon, "He was clutching five children in his arms as if he had been protecting them”.
My father was a coal miner and I came from a coal mining community. These communities were always particularly resilient and supportive as communities go and if there is hope in such a tragedy it was to read and hear about how the community of Aberfan have supported each other constantly for 50 years despite having had a generation wiped out. Some of those who lost children and family members only now being able to speak about their loss in 2016. When I first started teaching and I worked in a school in Bristol there was an old Welsh Maths teacher, Nigel Bowen, who told me with tears streaming down his face, that he was one of the first on the scene. All they could do in the mayhem of the avalanche of coal waste slurry that had engulfed Pantglas school and the surrounding houses was dig frantically with their bare hands and hope to find someone alive buried below. The fact that the now defunct National Coal Board refused to acknowledge until 1997 responsibility for the waste tips they had piled high above the village makes this injustice hard to take. The people of Aberfan had to use the money kindly donated from around the World to clear up their town, rebuild their houses and bury their dead. The then Welsh Secretary of State, Ron Davies, did the honourable and decent thing and changed this finally in the first year of the Labour government under Blair in 1997.
The minute’s silence was observed across Wales and other parts of the UK linked to mining like the Forest of Dean this morning at 9:15. I know in my old school of Crickhowell, where the sense of community and the school’s part in the community is one of the strongest I have known, the school came together to remember and commemorate the awful events of Aberfan 50 years ago.
In 2004 I remember the events in Beslan particularly as I had just started working in Russia with schools in Siberia when that southern Russian town should have been celebrating the first day of an academic year and instead gunmen and gunwomen took the school hostage. In the resulting chaos hundreds of young and innocent lives lost for no reason. My French friend told me this week they had just had the first of their “terrorist lock down” drills in her lycee in southern Paris and it didn’t matter how many times I saw it in the IB schools I worked with in Virginia, heavily armed school security and police guards in high schools with airport style security frisking students was something I could never get used to as a person or an educator.
I was very fortunate on Monday to be invited to take part in a unique forum at St George’s House, Windsor Castle, at the kind invitation of one of Wyedean’s parents, Mike Peckham, and the CEO of Virgin Money, Jayne-Anne Gadhia, who had sponsored the conference. The theme is something Mike has been working with the school on since the summer when we took the year 10 critical thinking group to East London to work with the local mosque and Forest Gate school in Newham. The conference had a range of participants from all spheres to talk about the impact of recent events such as Brexit, radicalisation both religious and political as well as the impact of globalisation on communities across the UK and the World. Having watched the US presidential debates this autumn and reading about the situation in places like Mosul and Aleppo, it is hard to find at times the optimism to explain these situations to your own children let alone your students. The conference on Monday was inspirational for me to not only hear about how people have remained optimistic and focussed from a range of examples from the Troubles in Northern Ireland to ethnic minorities combatting racism but also made clear there are alternative narratives to challenge what often appears a spiral of despondency in the World.
Schools have always been and always will be places of incredible hope and optimism. I gave my Year 9 assembly on Wednesday with this being reflected in what I need to be able to offer the young people in my care as their headteacher. I followed this straight after with the opening ceremony of a special event for the whole 6th Form organised by the assistant director of 6th Form, Sam Bishop, and Gloucestershire Road Safety, called “Drive for Life”. There are moments in life when you can be really humbled and on Wednesday the dignity and courage of a mother who had lost her 18-year-old in a road traffic accident was immense as she spoke to the entire 6th Form. The job of school is to teach a curriculum, to be able to pass exams and to obtain qualifications recognising that process. But holistically education is and should be so much more than this and on Wednesday at Wyedean this is what the young people in the 6th Form experienced. My thanks to all visitors and organisers who put on this unique event for the school and as ever there are photos and links on our Twitter feed. Staff have very kindly given up their break to take students to visit Auschwitz in Poland and the WWI battlefields in Belgium. On Monday the school held an inset/twilight training around building leadership and why staff go the “extra mile” for students. Wyedean has the best teachers and support staff I have known for both aspects and I have worked in some pretty good schools.
The school broke up for half term on Wednesday and we held a non-uniform day to support the local foodbank in Chepstow with donations and food to deliver for Harvest Festival. We return on Monday 31st October with darker and colder days to face and the long slog until Christmas. The school is hosting a Challenge Partner Review team in November for several days as we bring in external verifiers who can look at what and where the school is doing well. Also what we need to do to be even better and a way to improve the school to continue to be a high performing beacon of excellence for our communities in the Forest of Dean and in Monmouthshire. I will let parents know the date for the school’s first “coffee morning – town hall meeting” in late November as part of this dialogue.
I am looking forward to a few days away in mid Wales with my wife, kids and dog Dylan at my family’s place in the middle of no-where near Llanidloes. Possible trip to the sea and Aberystwyth for fish and chips as well as long treks up mountains with the dog and my daughters. And no wifi for their tablets there as well! I wish all our staff, students and families a very good rest and break.
7th October 2016
"Small minds are concerned with the extraordinary, great minds the ordinary" Blaise Pascal
The follow up to our school Open Evening on the 27th September has been overwhelming and there is nothing ordinary about choosing your child’s next secondary school even if for them it feels as such. I have spoken to a wide range of parents over the last week on their follow up tours around the school with Wyedean students and I have been immensely proud of the feedback comments about our young people as ambassadors for the school. We currently are working on the “Taster Days” from the 10th October to welcome for the day Year 6s from schools like The Dell, Thornwell and Undy to come and see the school working on a normal day. There is no such thing as a “normal day” in any school and they should all be extraordinary in the very ordinary things they do. I have had a number of extraordinary moments at Wyedean just in the last few days and none more so than being invited by the English Learning Area to have a celebration lunch with the Year 9s who were successful in their summer IGCSE examination. I am going to speak to the NPQH cohort of senior leaders at the Cabot Learning Federation on the 12th October and will certainly be using the examples of this half term alone of some of the great moments in this job as a Headteacher.
Thank you for all the emails and conversations about Show My Homework. As a school we are more than surprised already at the impact in learning, stretch and challenge, individual organisation and home support it is having as a key element of our approach towards effective digital media. The first half term of this academic year is nearly through and it is astonishing to think we are only a week and a bit away from the break. There are many things students can be doing to extend their learning and if it incorporates a walk outside in the autumn air even better. Living in the Forest of Dean and the Wye Valley, as many of our staff and students do, this should be the perfect excuse for a walk. There are a lot of studies around at the moment looking at wellbeing and mindfulness of both students and staff and the conclusions are not surprising about rest and work/life balance. As a parent I am very keen to ensure my children use technology in a constructive and positive way even if it does mean reminding them not to be using an iPad when we have a meal together. A report out this week looked at how teenagers were suffering from lack of sleep because they were addicted to mobile devices receiving messages and updates throughout the night. The technology cannot be dis-invented but we construct ways we can avoid the distractions of modern life and balance how we live with our phones and tablets.
I met with the school’s LGBT+ group on Friday to discuss some of the issues they would like to see addressed in the school this academic year. I know I am getting older (wiser?) because I reminded them when I first started teaching it was still the era of Section 28 when educators couldn’t even discuss LGBT+ issues. It was nice to see there is progression in society even if sometimes it didn’t feel as if there was. The leadership of students on issues like LGBT+ always impresses me and it has been commented upon constantly by the parents visiting Wyedean to see the school over the last few weeks.
The grammar school debate rumbles on with the Green Paper out for discussion and apart from a few emails asking me as Head about things like a House system introduction there are probably more important things to pay attention to in staffrooms and leadership teams up and down the country right now. I will leave the last word to former Head girl and Wyedean alumnus, Joanne Rowling. She tweeted recently in response to an article from education correspondent, Nicola Woolcock, supporting the reintroduction of a “grammar school ethos” in state schools: “Just for the record, the comprehensive (state school) I attended had four houses, too”. We did and it works very well still in schools like Redland Green Bristol where it supports students. Which is why we would look at re-introducing a possible House system at some point on the basis of a system of wider student community support and enrichment opportunity rather than an attempt to revisit yesteryear. And as an “ordinary” part of school life. Elvis aside, the 1950s were very overrated, according to my father.
23rd September 2016
“It takes a whole village to raise a child” African proverb
My room here at Wyedean often witnesses a whole range of interesting conversations, meetings and dialogues through the course of a week and I can only imagine what has been said between these four walls over the decades from my four predecessors. It wasn’t my first choice of location for a Head’s study when I was first appointed but in a very short space of time I couldn’t imagine where else it should go especially as it is located on the main corridor with the windows facing straight out onto the school yard. Basically I get to see the school daily at work and play. I remember a school in Bristol I worked at a long time ago where the Leadership Team housed themselves down an isolated corridor with a coded door. Not sure what the intended message to staff or students was from that gesture but definitely the wrong one. My Year 11 Critical Thinking group, over tea in my room, tackled the concept of “forgiveness” this week, inevitably Donald Trump managed to get a cameo in the debate. This morning I hosted Year 11 sports ambassadors over tea and cookies as they individually spoke about the sports they had represented their area in and in some cases their country. Achievement like this never ceases to amaze. As there were several female international footballers in the room and my 7 year old daughter has just started with her local club I did manage to get a promise of a coaching masterclass in the near future.
Next week the school holds its Open Evening on the 29th September throwing open the doors to all our prospective students and their parents to come and see what makes Wyedean School so special. The school essentially has open day every day and it is one of best features of Wyedean School that parents and children are around the school visiting all the time. I have been invited by old friends and colleagues from the British Council to visit Abbeyfield School in Wiltshire next week as we celebrate some of the best practice in international learning in the UK at a special event on Tuesday. I spoke to colleagues in Stryn, Norway this week about the possibility of their leadership team coming to Wyedean next year to look at teaching & learning, pastoral care and other aspects of school life. This is a school I worked with over 10 years ago and to be able to share and swap ideas with educators around the globe is one of the best things for me about international education.
I was very impressed to see the student leadership from Year 10 boys as they took control of the other half of the old pastoral block to turn it into the their common room. The plan is to have a dedicated Key Stage 4 area on that side of school for Years 10 and 11 to look after. Hopefully there are plenty of sofas on Freecycle to go between them and Year 11. The 6th Form café has been up and running this week and it is the student leadership driving the initiative that is impressive. Plus a lot of hard work from Mrs Lewis and her team.
My Norwegian colleague made a comment this week that made me really think about what’s at the heart of a “good” school – relationships. She mentioned the old African proverb about it takes a village to raise a child and how in a small town like Stryn tucked away in the mountains of Western Norway it is the whole community that ensures an effective partnership between home, school and the community exists to benefit the child. This week I spoke with a parent about what we had to do to ensure that the child gets through a difficult patch in life right now and it was the willingness to work together that made me drive home back across the Severn Bridge knowing her child will come out the other side and be fine. We have good relationships working here at Wyedean between school, home and the community and the more engagement we have the better for the student.
16th September 2016
"Enjoy the little things in life because one day you`ll look back and realise they were the big things." Kurt Vonnegut
Well the first signs of the new academic year are manifesting at the end of only the second week back – coughs and colds. I have had a sore throat this week but I am fairly sure that it is the amount of talking I have been doing after a near monk’s like silence in comparison through the summer holidays. I am sure I read once that in the course of an average school day an educator will speak and interact with around 200 people. It is one of the absolute pleasures of the job to be able to speak to students, staff and parents daily so I am more than happy to risk a sore throat for the weekend. Besides my children will be pleased as it means I can’t nag them to tidy their rooms on a Saturday morning. Walking around the campus this week I have seen great learning across the school this week although slightly disappointed at missing the smells and explosions in Science as I dropped by. Early days in the autumn term yet though. I have seen a lot of parents this week over a number of issues and I do need to say thank you to the parents who have donated sofas for the Year 11 common room. More still needed please. This week we also saw the school’s case study for significant improvement and excellence in the annual “Parliamentary Review” report (follow the link below) on education published. There is a link to the press release on the school’s website:
In school the new Year 7s and 12s seem to be more than established at the end of the second week of the academic year. The Learning Areas when they are not involved in the day to day of teaching are preparing their analysis reports from the summer results ahead of the meetings with the Leadership Team over the next two weeks looking at what went well and what we need to do to improve as part of our school improvement plan. I had a really good meeting with one of our new art teachers as we discussed ideas for the next phase of developing Creativity in the school and I am pleased to finally see flags of the World up in the school’s assembly hall as we continue to develop as a centre of excellence for global learning. As a part of our digital learning strategy “Show My Homework” is now the online platform for all home learning. In conversations with parents the overwhelming consensus is they absolutely love Show My Homework. Homework can be seen that has been set, if it has been undertaken by the student and it also allows more stretch and challenge as well as independent learning. To the Year 10 boys who had a moan to me this week about it meaning they now have to do their homework and can’t “get out of it” – in the words of Socrates “tough”.
The “great debate” in education rumbles on following the Green Paper last week and the proposal in introduce more grammar schools and allow schools to select. One education leader has asked “what happens when all schools can select? What happens to those students not selected? Where do they go?”. It was commented upon in Parliament this week that as a policy proposal it has united more or less the teaching profession including the ex-Secretary of State for Education, Nicky Morgan, but not Michael Gove. And was it coincidence that David Cameron quit Parliament on the same day as the announcement? I am curious to see where the debate will develop following the new incoming head of OfSTED, Amanda Spielman’s signalled intentions to consider scrapping the top inspection rating because she was “quite uncomfortable” about “some of the effects I see it having in the system”. How many schools, including this one, have set their aspirations to be “outstanding”? For Wyedean School this label always means “high performing” in all that we do for the best possible outcomes and opportunities for our students. Hopefully we are always aware that the little things are the big things right now – especially in our school.
9th September 2016
"Everyone must take time to sit and watch the leaves turn" Elizabeth Lawrence.
Hard to believe it is Friday already and the first week is out of the way. The Year 7s I have been speaking to this week, especially the ones at lunchtime today, appear to have had a really good first week. And they like the new dress code! All the year groups seem to have grown taller over the summer and speaking to students in the various assemblies as we welcomed them back to school this week and a new academic year ahead all seemed ready for the challenges that lie ahead. Year 11 are appreciating the trust of a new common room and when it is finally finished the Sixth Form have a brand new cafe/coffee bar in the Sixth Form Centre.
Driving around Bristol this summer I did seem to get stuck behind the same bus advertising Sidcot School and their slogan "We are more than an exams factory" which made me think for the latter part of August about what I would say to my colleagues on the first day back. Qualifications are extremely important, especially as they are the means to access the next stages of education and a way into careers as well as proof of a student’s attainment. But the best schools do this but much more and I haven't met an educator who doesn't want aspirational educational opportunities for all the students in their care. The two of the most joyous days in the school calendar, even allowing for the disappointment tears, are the ones in August when staff, parents and governors get to share and see the success of the students. There are some wonderful photos on the school's website from this August and I am very proud of the achievement of the students of Wyedean School in my first year as Head. I used various social media quotes in my welcome back talk to all staff on the 1st September that illustrated the appreciation of our students and parents for the hard work of the staff at Wyedean School. As I sat in my cabin study this summer thinking about what I would say to staff on the first day back and the Sidcot bus quote floating around in my mind I also put together a collection of some of the photos from the school year just gone to show we are also definitely more than just an exams factory at Wyedean School and educating the whole student is a core purpose here. We need education to be celebrated more and often.
I have been asked several times over the summer what I think about the proposals, confirmed today, about the Prime Minister’s roughly outlined Green Paper on allowing all schools to become grammar schools and select their students if they wish. I am starting my 23rd year in teaching this autumn, having experienced a fair few secretary of states for education and five prime ministers. All I know is there has always been a lot capriciousness in educational politics, and always will be, but the basics remain the same. Schools need to be places people can be proud of to attend and say "that's my school". Strong identity, culture and ethos is way more than a uniform or a slogan. Schools also need to be a safe learning environment that allow students to be nurtured, challenged and ultimately to grow in their wider knowledge and understanding through compelling teaching and learning in order to take their place as citizens and in 2016 global citizens at that. If educational policy allows educators to achieve this with the right funding and framework and to get on with the job then as with most political debates, along with my colleagues I will wait to see what emerges in the detail. The last educational White Paper was launched only in May 2016, a month before the Brexit vote. That now seems to have been largely shelved. It’s fair to say 2016 has been a seismic year for the UK so far which is why more stability is needed in fundamental areas such as the educating of our young people.
The school has its Open Evening on the 29th September and again this gives Wyedean School the opportunity to showcase to our community the success and achievement of the educational experience at Wyedean. The summer exam results in GCSE, BTEC and A Level are some of the best in the history of the school but there is so much more as well to this school to see.
Today the school said goodbye to Dave Burgess, the business manager, who is retiring after 13 years of fantastic service to the school. Dave leaves a very big hole as a colleague and a friend. Dave epitomises the dedication and passion in all staff at the school who only want the very best for the young people in our care. Wyedean School wishes Dave, Jean and his family a long and happy retirement together and thank you for everything you have done for the school not least for this rookie Head helping him navigate the challenges of his first year. May the wind always be at your back and the sun shining on your face.
So we made the weekend and even with the sun shining it feels autumnal. "Last Night of the Proms" this weekend so it is definitely the end of summer. Instead of ploughing through the T.E.S or my ASCL briefing paper to try and fathom educational policy that can wait for now I am going to take the kids and the dog out walking to find the leaves turning. A much better use of time.
20th July 2016
"A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor" F.D. Roosevelt
"But to go to school in a summer morn,
O! It drives all joy away;
Under a cruel eye outworn,
The little ones spend the day
In sighing and dismay." William Blake
I’m not sure I would agree with Blake having experienced school enrichment opportunities in these last two weeks but this week in particular the weather has been too hot and it is very noticeable the impact on staff and students. As my Year 8s reminded me in the canteen this morning “I bet it rains when it is the holiday”. The Sixth Form spent the night sleeping out in the school grounds as part of their work with Shelter Cyrmu. They certainly had the right weather for it although lots of bleary eyed and tired Year 12s this morning as I walked past them at 7am. One day starting, theirs beginning with sleep. One of my Year 10s this week said his summer holiday is largely based around sleep. The school has really had a wealth of experiences to enjoy these past two weeks with Sports Days, curriculum enrichment days, Year 10 Work Experience, the annual Fun Run, guest speakers in school, master class workshops, the list goes on. I definitely think Blake was wrong. Well, applied to students at Wyedean anyhow.
A number of parents have asked about ideas to make sure their children don’t get too bored and what they can do over the summer as a way of keeping their learning topped up. As a former Head of History I used to always make sure my students, not just exam classes, had a decent reading list to plough through over the summer. Much easy with say a Kindle these days than a suitcase full of AJP Taylor and Alan Bullock being dragged to the Dordogne. Anyhow, there are some websites below that may be of use. I am not recommending Pokémon Go, largely because I don’t understand the chaos seen say in Central Park in New York last week. My own kids love geocaching and spent last Sunday chasing clues around North Bristol.
25 ideas for students in the summer holidays
In education, in wider politics, we seem to be in more uncertain times as we go into the summer and look ahead to a new academic year. The appointment of Justine Greening by Theresa May as the new Secretary of State for Education was largely welcomed by the profession especially because of her own comprehensive school background. Frankly, I just want an Education Secretary committed to education with the highest aspirations for all students no matter where he or she went to school. Having worked in both the independent and state sectors, wanting the best for students tends to be the same. The reported focus on new grammar schools as a first announcement isn’t the most pressing issue in education right now for many school leaders and teachers. The new Prime Minister did seem to offer a focus on supporting all sections of society in her first speech from the steps of 10 Downing Street. Time will tell. Our kids will still need an education full of skills, values, knowledge and understanding that will allow them to take their place as global citizens in a globalized 21st Century society.
I had a full experience of this on Monday when we took the Year 10 Critical Thinking students to the East End of London to work with Newham North Mosque community and the staff and students of Forest Gate School. My deepest and heartfelt thanks to all those who organised this event and hosted us especially one of our Wyedean parents, Mr Mike Peckham. It was a pure privilege to witness the dialogue and discussions between these two very different communities living in the UK. Days like these make you so glad you are an educator and in the job you do as groups of Gloucestershire/Monmouthshire and East London teenagers deal with the senseless nihilism of say the recent Bastille Day-Nice atrocity or the daily violence in Iraq and Syria. I am so proud of the students and staff of Wyedean School and cannot thank parents and governors enough for their support of what we do to allow days like Monday to happen. This project will continue into next year. Moldova next summer for these students too as we aim to finally visit our partner school in Chisinau.
My first year as Head appears to echo FDR’s famous words and to continue in a nautical theme we also don’t develop ourselves by hugging the coast line afraid of sailing across the sea to discover new worlds. There have been challenges to face in my first year but as I told staff in briefing last Monday, in my twenty second year of teaching this has to be one of the best. I am exhausted but have driven home every day across the Severn to Bristol already looking forward to the next day in school. I work with some extraordinarily talented students and people every day. I have a holiday with my family planned and certainly lots to read over the next few weeks (a biography on Theodore Roosevelt - distant cousin to FDR) but with August exam results, UCAS clamour for places and then the 1st September return I am excited about the new academic year and the promise of what is to come. Have a great summer and see you in the autumn for the new academic year.
8th July 2016
"Culture eats strategy for breakfast every day of the week" Sir Kevin Collins.
I spent Sunday afternoon on the eastern side of the Severn looking across to Wyedean from Old Down Country Park as my kids ran around in the sunshine. Apart from feeling exhausted at the end of this academic year and my first year as Head my thoughts on a summer’s day were on the week the school had just experienced in terms of witnessing the positive culture in action we know will take the school forward to where anyone involved in and supporting Wyedean knows where it can aspire to.
The PE department celebrated their successful girls in sports at the start of the week with their awards ceremony and Lily Crawley has been representing Gloucestershire in the U15 High Jump at the English Schools’ Track and Field championship in Gateshead. I sat in a very stuffy hall in central London on Tuesday with other heads listening to Sir George Berwick and officially beginning Wyedean’s partnership with Challenge Partners, the network that grew from the highly successful London Challenge. This is where Wyedean School needs to be right now in terms of an effective network of over 300 outstanding schools across the UK committed to school improvement, leadership and compelling teaching & learning. The Head of Bradley Stoke School and former Wyedean Deputy Head, Steve Moir, spent a morning with us on Thursday. Steve was impressed with the progress the school has made especially in terms of positive school culture and as we walked around we saw many good examples of challenge in learning of all students. Global Learning has been at the forefront of learning innovation for us as a school this year and it made me very proud as Head to see the school awarded Global Learning Partners ”Expert Centre” status by DfID this week. There was a very interesting article in the TES from the principal of UWC Atlantic College, John Walsmley, on the importance of global learning, echoing the belief and commitment we have to it as a school.
With a week that started with American partner schools marking the 240th anniversary of the American Declaration of Independence, a national NUT strike on Tuesday, Year 10 IT students visiting the Fairford air show and new Year 12s in for their induction week it was a pleasure to see the Creativity Festival week in Wyedean School as a central part of the school’s culture and belief in creativity in the curriculum. We were really fortunate enough to have had a performer from the West End musical “Wicked” spend several days with students in Masterclass sessions leading to a stunning performance on Thursday afternoon. All week long the school production of “Blood Brothers” ran and I got to see the final performance on Thursday evening. It was a mesmerising production and illustrated how much confidence and ability students in this school have in the creative arts. My thanks to Drama colleagues for their hard work on producing this play. The Creativity week finished on a high with the festival here on Friday evening and our community coming into school to celebrate with us wonderful learning and work their children produce. My thanks to all colleagues, students, governors and parents involved for making this festival happen. The Wyedean school picnic the previous Friday had already brought a summer feel to school as we entered these final weeks. A huge thanks to Angharad, Sara and Layla for these events. Lots of photos on our school Twitter.
I sat in my final Full Governors meeting for the academic year on Tuesday as we reviewed an extraordinary year in the life of the school as we move forward. This has lingered with me hence my thoughts drifting back to Wyedean on a Sunday afternoon across the Severn. My thoughts approaching the end of my first year as Head are that I am definitely pleased to see the culture of the school is one where everyone is valued and can contribute to improve all the time what we are doing to give our young people the very best in education. Still more to do though and we are planning for the next academic year around continuing to raise standards as part of our strategy but without the right culture in a school any plan remains dusty and abstract on a shelf. This week alone illustrated the power of the right culture and the right strategy working in tandem for the benefit of the students.
1st July 2016
"We cannot change the past, but we can change our attitude toward it. Uproot guilt and plant forgiveness. Tear out arrogance and seed humility. Exchange love for hate, thereby making the present comfortable and the future promising" Maya Angelou
I am not sure about politics but a week is a long time in education. Last Friday I sat with South West Heads and Principals at Bristol Met' Academy to listen to Sir David Carter as part of his UK roadshow speaking to schools as the new National Schools Commissioner alongside Rebecca Clarke who now fills Sir David’s SW RSC role. The very palpable elephant in the room was the result announced on the EU referendum in the early hours of Friday morning. Whichever side people voted I haven’t met a single person who knows what will happen next following this historic moment in the history of the UK. On Thursday my Year 10 Critical Thinking group held one of the most refreshing discussions I have heard in this long campaign about Britain’s future after this vote. Today we will be honouring another significant moment in the UK’s past when we attend the commemoration service in Chepstow for the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme. A timely reminder that in the grand scheme of things history is bigger than all of us.
I spent a really enjoyable afternoon at my former school, Royal Wootton Bassett Academy, last week as I met old friends and colleagues from there and old colleagues from the visiting American school, Gar-Field High School Virginia. The students from the States were as engaging and interested as they have always been and just happy to be in a different country interacting with British students. Naturally the EU vote came up as a topic of discussion as well as the US presidential election this autumn now gearing up between two quite different candidates in Trump and Clinton. It reminded me again as I drove home along the M4 to Bristol the absolute value of students having a global dimension underpinning their education. Whatever happens over the next two years in negotiations for the EU one thing is as certain as death and taxes, the World will experience more globalisation not less and our young people need to be educated to face this challenge.
It hard to believe the academic year is just a couple of weeks away and we are in July already. As a "newish" Head now I am in the process of reflecting back over the year as well as planning forward to the new term starting in September. I know my colleagues and students are ready for a well-deserved rest over the summer so I am amazed at the energy and enthusiasm still going into events like next week’s Creativity Festival, the summer picnic we have today and especially for the Year 6 induction week we have just had where it has been a pleasure to see our future students from our primary partners in Gloucestershire and from Wales spend time getting used to the change. We have record numbers of Year 11s with us next week for 6th Form induction as they begin their next stage of education now the exams are over. I understand from tired but happy colleagues how successful the Year 11 Prom was on Thursday.
There is a new book out on educational leadership by Andy Buck called "Leadership Matters" and he is a huge advocate of the idea of "discretionary effort" - colleagues going the extra mile. If I was to look at anything that stands out for me as a Head it would be the willingness of Wyedean’s dedicated staff, parents and governors working tirelessly with our students to make the school a success. I see it daily and it has made all the difference to me as a Head this year ensuring the school is going forward for the students we have in our trust.
I am not sure I can watch the Wales v Belgium game but whatever happens it has been an incredible achievement in the Euros already by this team. Chris Coleman's greatest success for me is making all those individuals from the World’s most expensive player to the plodding journeymen from the lower leagues into this one team. Stronger together. A valuable example to say a Headteacher, educational policymaker or even politicians struggling to give clear leadership when it is most needed. Cymru am byth!
6th June 2016
"Change is the end result of all true learning" Leo Buscaglia
Emily@emily_bufton "I've cried so much today ugh but just want to thank everyone in Wyedean Class of 2016. It's been 5 great years honestly so sad to leave"
Jess@JessCooksonxo "Big thank you to everyone at Wyedean who made the past 5 years of my life such a great experience"
Liz Kayll@madmadmadmadmum "@WyedeanSchool Class Act. So glad my kids go to a school with such great staff".
I’m not sure what has been more difficult to get my thoughts around that the summer seems finally to be here or we have less than 7 weeks until the end of the academic year. The last few weeks seem to have flown by and the exam season is now in full swing as we said goodbye as a school to Year 11 and 13 just before the Whitsun break. There are lots of times in this role when some days feel harder than others but I have really enjoyed reading comments and thoughts from our students and parents about the experiences and sentiments towards Wyedean School. The two assemblies I saw for school leavers in Years 11 and 13 on Friday 27th May made me appreciate the importance of school and the marking of the passing of this time for young people. It is a real boost to morale and energy as staff have worked tremendously hard in getting students through the academic year and ready for exams. The education climate has remained constant though throughout the year; less funding, uncertainty over new measures of progress & attainment and whether all schools should be academies in Multi Academy Trusts. In Wales MAT stood for “More, Able and Talented”, how I wish this was still the case. The education Bill in the Queen’s speech backed down a little from the contentious aspects of the March White Paper but professional associations are still looking to take national action in protest.
This is still though my favourite part of the academic year. The structures for the next academic year in September are already being planned for such as staffing, timetable and the calendar but it is also a time for more holistic learning experiences in the curriculum. We have experienced a huge surge in numbers for Years 7 and 12 from both sides of the border starting in September and we have a number of transition events to prepare our future students into Wyedean to commence the next part of their educational pathway.
I was able to Skype with my old partner school in Virginia, Gar-Field High School, for my last A Level Politics lesson before the break. The Year 13s spoke to their counterparts in the US on a range of topics ranging from Donald Trump and the election, Obama’s legacy, America’s place in the World and the British EU vote coming up in less than 3 weeks from now. There are some moments in this job when you know this is the absolute best job in the World. It happened watching an incredibly compassionate head of Year 11 and a dedicated director of 6th Form say goodbye to kids they had stewarded through good and bad times but always together. It happened on that Thursday afternoon in my study as students who can vote this year engaged in a lively discussion across the Atlantic using the best of digital media to make their learning and understanding of the World much more meaningful and compelling.
The recruitment and retention crisis in education occupies a lot of column inches and social media space these days. A recent TES poll said only 52% of teachers would put their kids into the school they teach. Over half term a family member who had been a very good primary school teacher told me he was giving it up this summer and had enough. This is an appalling situation to read as an educator. We need outstanding teachers firing up students with limitless ambition and noble aspirations. At times like these I re-read what our staff, students and community say about Wyedean and take a lot of strength and heart knowing that what we are doing here in extremely challenging times are the right things for our young people.
6th May 2016
"March winds and April showers bring forth May flowers” English proverb
“Where flowers bloom, so does hope” Lady Bird Johnson
I am not sure about the May flowers right now in week 30 of the academic year but I know I am still scraping ice off the car first thing in the morning. However being able to sit outside this week to eat dinner in the evening sunshine is finally convincing me summer is getting here. The proverbial May flowers we are hoping that will bloom over the exam period in Key Stage 4 and 5 are heavily revising and preparing themselves with their teachers and parents for the intense exams ahead. I am counting how often during the day I am hearing “it’s a pinch point” at the moment. When is it not a pinch point in a school when you are entrusted with the educational futures of young people? I was asked about the parental boycott of SATs this week in primary schools being a parent of two children in primary school and one in pre-school. There is an awful amount of testing that goes on in schools and it is important that parents and educators debate this fully and frankly especially as young people are being put under enormous pressure to succeed from a very young age. Knowing the profile of a learner is crucial to how we teach and see clear progress and attainment but to forsake the very art of instilling a love of learning in a student that is lifelong is detrimental to the individual and society. Many educators, parents, governors and students will be pleased to hear the U-turn today on the forced academisation proposal in the Education White Paper. The National Schools Commissioner, Sir David Carter writing in the TES today said “…I am certain that there is a place in our education system for successful, sustainable stand-alone academies”. Wyedean School will work with networks like Challenge Partners so we are not isolated but as a school we are deciding what is right for our students.
I sat along with our parents and staff and watched the outstanding Sixth Form team here on Wednesday evening celebrate the academic year by honouring the success of Wyedean Students. It is at those moments that the worst of days can diminish into a hazy blur as the real sum total of all the effort invested speaks from the heart about achievement both academic and personal. I had the honour of being invited by the Chepstow Rotary Club to hear our Head Boy, Tom, speak about his experience of the Rotary Club’s leadership programme for young people. Not only was it a good dinner but it was a great way of working with our local community. My thanks this week to the Chepstow Lions for their very kind donation of a defibrillator for the school. We all echoed the same sentiment at the presentation handover; let’s hope we never have to use it.
I am looking forward to next week when my A Level Politics class will be talking to their counterparts in Gar-Field High School Virginia over Skype about the presidential election. I am trying not to focus too much on what a possible Trump v Clinton election battle will hold but with no disrespect to the Assembly and local elections in the UK this week for a student of politics America is fascinating right now. My Year 10 Critical Thinking class have to be steered away from Donald Trump regularly and even the most abstract of our topics seems to lead back to him. At least young people are interested and keen in the World around them.
I know it has only been a four day this week with the Bank Holiday but it feels a lot longer. I am hoping that the weekend is at least a time for some rest before another week of “pinch points” to come. And the study leave dates get closer and closer. I know there a lot of good sites out there and revision support such as our own GCSEPod but I like a lot of what is posted on The Student Room site especially this recent one on revision:
I still think one of the best pieces of advice when it comes to revision is making sure you get rest, exercise and fresh air in between revising. Sunshine really does make flowers bloom.
22nd April 2016
"A leader is best when people barely know he exists" Lao Tsu
I had the privilege to be invited over to the Cabot Learning Federation (CLF) in Bristol on Wednesday to talk to NPQH candidates about headship and school leadership. I undertook my own NPQH as an aspiring Head/Principal through the CLF Institute and it is a model of leadership development and succession planning that allows schools and academies to continue to get good school leaders coming through. When David Carter set up the CLF he knew good succession planning was crucial to its success and the belief that everyone is a leader in school. This has never been more important than right now in this time of unprecedented educational uncertainties. I thoroughly enjoyed my NPQH with Cabot & the National College especially as it was giving me the leadership nourishment and challenge at the time I needed to prepare for leading a school like Wyedean.
Every day as a Head feels like it is an NPQH challenge and no two days are the same. Monday started off with the A48 closing at 7am for the roadworks not 9:30am as stated. The chaos this caused with students and staff trying to get to school was appalling. It's a good job I had planned my Year 11 assembly on the theme of humour and laughter after that start to a week. The power of social media, for good and for bad, never ceases to amaze. Parents, governors, local counsellors and students were quick to take to Twitter and Facebook to put across the concerns regarding the two weeks of disruption this would cause to students being in school and for exam classes about to go on study leave. My sincere appreciation to Gloucester County Council and the Highways Agency SW for listening and acting.
As the week went on the Year 8 assembly theme changed to Friendship so things were definitely improving by Thursday and even the sun began to shine which finally justified my decision to turn the school heating off on a freezing cold Monday. My Year 7 History class went outside to work in the sun as we were looking at the topic of bad rulers in history, even picked up on Twitter by Horrible Histories. How will Elizabeth II be seen by history? Not quite the same as King John or Mary I. An interesting debate in class as the Queen marked her 90th birthday this week. My Year 13 Politics class grappled with the powers and role of the Vice Presidency this week. Who would Trump choose as a running mate if he is still there in the autumn? The Science learning area are involved in a fascinating project at the moment with planting "rocket seeds" that have been in space and I saw some great learning in Maths this week as I walked around the area. Year 11s are just off to the Maths mock now as I type this blog. Study leave beckons ever closer. We have a vacancy in Maths at the moment for September so if you know of anyone interested the details are on the website. The 6th Form football team sadly lost narrowly in the county semi-final to Tewkesbury but were a credit to the school.
The leadership team worked with Jackie Beard of the National Governors Association on Thursday as we continue to develop as a high performing school and my thanks to parents who came in this week after school to work with Jo Davies of the Ceridwen group for parent voice on improving the school. The teaching and learning briefing this week focused on the recent round of lesson observations and I saw a great example of stretch and challenge this week in a Year 9 DT lesson linked to global designs. I met with Caroline Harmer of the Global Learning Partnership to plan the autumn global conference being hosted here at Wyedean as well as our development of the global leaders' scheme.
To finish this week's blog, the hoax curriculum letter this week doing the rounds was spotted immediately by sharp eyed students - not the boxing lessons being an odd inclusion but the spelling being way too good in the letter to have come from me as Head. Exam students have far too much time on their hands it seems. At least they are motivated by what is happening politically to education right now in England. As for uniform rumours no striped blazers and boaters just yet but the student council are running a consultation on how we can improve the current uniform without major changes. The final decision on this will be communicated in June.
My thanks to Forest Activities Festival for the invite to attend on Sunday at the Speech House grounds Coleford and I know my three daughters are looking forward to it. I haven't checked with Mrs Ford yet but then this is where I hand over my leadership for the weekend when I get home.
15th April 2016
"Please can you pass on our sincere thanks to the terrific team for giving up their holiday time to take the students away skiing. Our son had a brilliant time and we are always amazed at your staff's patience, energy, enthusiasm and flexibility. As always the Wyedean Community enables students to be themselves whilst understanding their roles of independence, responsibility and enjoyment. Thank you too for your on-going support of all that makes Wyedean a wonderful learning and developing environment." Year 10 parents email, 11th April 2016.
There are some great photos and comments on the two visits that went out from Wyedean over the Easter break posted on the school’s website, Facebook and Twitter. I have no problem starting a new term back after Easter reading the very kind words from parents in the quote starting this blog piece. It’s less than a month until the Queen’s Speech and along with lots of educators I am waiting to see what form the education bill will take based on the March 2016 White Paper. The highly respected Institute of Fiscal Studies announced real term funding being cut by another 7% taking spending levels back down to those last seen in the 1970s. These are unprecedented times in the public services and in education in particular. Some of my A Level Politics class discussed the Brexit referendum and the possible consequences of either result being announced. For them this will be the first time they will also be eligible to vote as well.
The new day of the summer term kicked off with a huge burst of optimism when I went to see the Year 11 Motivation day with a very talented speaker from The Fix Up Team (@thefixupteam). I am resisting the temptation to constantly remind Year 11 how little time they have left before Study Leave but as expected, along with Sixth Form and A Levels, this dominates these few precious weeks before Whitsun break. The leadership team are in throes of planning the new timetable and I met some Year 9s to speak about how they chose their options especially in the context of EBacc.
The school has been working this year with groups within pastoral like EACH (Educational Action Challenging Homophobia) through assemblies and working with groups of students. I was impressed with a group of students who have recently set up a LGBT group in school to support their peers. It makes me very proud to see such leadership from Wyedean students. Another proud moment was seeing the outstanding creativity and innovation in the DT exhibition on Friday lunchtime for GCSE and A Level. Even the Dyson Foundation thought so on Twitter.
It was a strange moment to speak to staff last Tuesday at the School Priority Meeting as a sort of part "state of the union” address and part "try not to make them fall asleep". I think I got the balance right as a Head. I did work at a school once where the Head had about 72 "urgent" priorities for the school to focus on. The positive school culture along with the hard work and professionalism I see daily as I walk around convinces me that Wyedean School’s priority to be a high performing school in all that it does is being achieved.
I was fortunate enough at Easter to spend a few days taking an elderly relative of mine to Arnhem to see where his cousin had died at the bridge as a paratrooper fighting there in September 1944. It was a very poignant visit especially when we went to the Commonwealth cemetery at Oosterbeek. Every September all the local schools go to Oosterbeek and lay flowers on every grave to remember and to also look forward. I spoke to a Dutch teacher who said how important it was in local schools to remember these moments in Europe, and the importance for younger generations to be aware of what it has taken to get the peace and prosperity we enjoy and perhaps take for granted in our continent today.
24th March 2016
"a fo ben bid bont" (If you want to be a leader, be a bridge) Welsh proverb
The anticipation of the Easter break is palpable around school right now and not just because chips have been moved to Thursday from Friday on the canteen lunch menu. The A Level Geography students and staff are currently in Iceland (the country not the shop) on a field visit and a group of students and staff are anticipating decent snow on the French Alps as the ski trip gets off today. Year 11s have a shorter break as they are accessing the school’s Easter revision sessions. I know it has been a shorter term but the Wyedean School Spring newsletter highlights a fair few enrichment and extra curricula opportunities that have taken place this term. There is a link on the school’s website and social media sites: http://www.wyedean.gloucs.sch.uk/downloads/Spring newsletter.pdf
One of the highlights for me of the term was to see the school’s Eisteddfod concert last night. I know I am the Head of Wyedean so you would expect me to write this but we don’t half have some talented students as this school. The gospel choir recently won 1st Place at the Mid Somerset concert for schools across the South West. It was a great evening and my thanks to the staff and students in the Music department for putting on such a lovely night of music and song across the border in our corner of the UK. My thanks also to the Chepstow community groups who also performed in the Eisteddfod.
I spent a long morning in Shire Hall Gloucester on Tuesday and was able to attend a British Council/Global Learning Partners at Abbeyfield School in the evening. The current debate in education especially since the launch of the White Paper last week swims around my 3am thoughts, jostling with the budget, so it was nice to see some inspirational international curriculum stories from across Wiltshire. Also good to catch up with friends and colleagues from my Wiltshire and British Council days. Throughout my career as an educator I have been privileged to be involved and to witness some of the most powerful learning experiences in different parts of the World. I have more hope since Tuesday that there are classroom teachers who will still find the energy in an exhausting and time demanding day to give students additional opportunities to engage with the wider World. It is a key part of our vision for Wyedean School that we involve more our students and community in the globalized society. My Year 10 Critical Thinking group had an interesting discussion on symbolism linked to globalism this morning following the vote against changing the New Zealand flag. Year 13 A Level Politics had a couple of lessons looking at the US presidency with me today. I even managed to get through Bill Clinton's 8 years without too many meanders off executive power.
I spoke to Years 12 and 13 in the 6th Form assembly on Tuesday morning ahead of my meeting to County. It was a talk based on motivation with exams so close but I based it around a quote asking what would you do with your “one precious life”? Unbeknown the tragic and terrifying events of Tuesday were unfolding in the terrorist attacks on commuters in Brussels at the very same time. Life is extremely precious and as I drove along the M4 in the afternoon to Chippenham I heard the very dignified voice of the widow of the police officer murdered in Liverpool, leaving two young kids without a father and a wife without a husband. As she spoke she talked about telling her daughters about their dad and then she said “I will always tell them there is much more good than bad in this World”. Incredible wisdom and courage.
I met with Learning Area Leaders on Wednesday and was reminded it has been a whole year since my interview for the Headship at Wyedean School. I have been invited to speak to NPQH candidates at Cabot Learning Federation in April about being a Head. What to say? Despite the term having a fair few curve balls it is still the best job in the World by a mile. I wish all of our school community a restful and enjoyable break ready to come back refreshed for the long (warm and sunny?) summer term ahead.
18th March 2016
"Our task is to educate their (our students) whole being so they face the future. We may not see the future, but they will and our job is to help them make something out of it" Sir Ken Robinson
It appears that the English educational system is about to enter another tumultuous period of change following the Chancellor’s budget statement this week and the subsequent White Paper launched by Nicky Morgan. On one level it is actually a relief to finally see the educational strategy the government is outlining for the next few years so at least as educators we can plan accordingly. Over the last couple of weeks I have attended the ASCL conference, SW Education conference and Gloucestershire Heads and listened with intent to the debates generated by the likes of Michael Wilshaw, Nicky Morgan, John Dunford and David Carter as well as my colleagues leading their own schools. It is amazing how much thinking can be done up and down the length of the M5 motorway.
Everyone involved in education wants to raise standards and opportunities for our young people in an ever changing globalised and technology influenced society but how we do this is where people are going to obviously differ. The debates and dialogues are healthy though and what has worked previously isn’t necessarily what is needed now to address the issues we are facing in education in 2016. I look at my own kids and the students entrusted to me as the Headteacher of Wyedean and want to make sure that the nurture and the learning we are providing for them gives the right skills, life choices and well-being to allow them to grow and soar in this World. I don’t know if making every school an academy or pursuing the EBacc curriculum or even every school joining a MAT necessarily achieves this ambition. I do know having dedicated professional teachers working hard offering challenge and stimulus supported and trusted by school leaders, administrators and pastoral care is part of how we achieve this aim. I know the work of the school’s governors & parents supporting and challenging the staff and students is a key part of achieving success for our young people. I am not sure if it was Steve Jobs or Abraham Lincoln (or neither) who said the best way to predict the future is to create it but Wyedean School has joined the highly successful Challenge Partnership network of schools this term as a way of creating unique opportunities and raising standards further as we plan for our future here and avoid capricious educational fads. And more investment in schools is needed Secretary of State, not less as funding is now being reduced to a crisis level that will impact negatively on standards & what we are trying to commonly achieve in education.
There are two examples of what we can achieve in partnership from the last couple of days alone. On Thursday one of our parent governors, her partner, our creative learning coordinator and director of 6th Form worked with our students planting over 400 trees kindly donated by the Woodlands Trust to plant at the front of school. The Spring weather was glorious and it ranks as one of the best days I have experienced at Wyedean to date even with the various expected curve balls thrown my way during the same day. On the same evening staff and parents worked in partnership having the often tough and difficult conversations with students facing exams in Year 11 and 6th Form in just a few weeks but all in the spirit of support and partnership. I know from the conversations I have had this lunchtime with three of the Year 11 lads I am mentoring how important this support is from school and home. The latest round of lesson observations we are undertaking also reveals the compelling learning going on in the school and the impact this is having on the individual student’s progress. We can’t afford to waste any learning time.
It was Sport Relief today and I did let the younger more energetic colleagues take part in the staff netball match at lunch and opted instead for the judging role of the Easter Cake competition. My thanks to Year 10 Food Tech students and Year 9 entrants for the invite. The Student Leadership Exec’ are currently looking at the Wyedean school uniform and dress code and in our meeting this week there certainly was as a lot of “healthy dialogue” generated on the issue. As I looked at the whole of Year 9 in my assembly this morning it reminded me of my time in US high schools as we held a non-uniform day in aid of Sport Relief and students wore their own clothes. I think it is fair to say Hogwarts style academic gowns are definitely a non-starter for now and the future.
4th March 2016
"Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn." Benjamin Franklin
The partner school in Chisinau, Moldova, who we work with as a school, Lycee Gheorghe Asachi, celebrated the start of Spring this week with a festival and the giving of red and white ribbons known as martisors. They bring luck for the rest of the year if worn. Our Eisteddfod for St David’s Day hasn’t quite fallen on the 1st March for Dewi Sant but it is a similar principle over on this side of Europe to Moldova (there is a board game called “Where is Moldova?” – great Cricova red wine, a favourite of the Royal Family going back to Queen Victoria). I sat with a group of Year 11s earlier on in the week as we went through the Year book and Prom arrangements. I wasn’t sure if them being relaxed and confident as we sat in my study was a good sign or not as their exams approach even faster, or so it seems now we are in March.
I think the two things I have enjoyed most this week are the assemblies I have taken and the Head’s drop in as I have been walking around various learning areas with colleagues looking at the work we do especially on supporting PP students and delivering stretch & challenge in learning. The theme for the assembly has been based on British Values and The Rule of Law. My stretch and challenge as an educator was to spend 15 minutes from Monday to Thursday at 8:45 ensuring I made this appealing as a topic to the various year groups. I did manage to get in The Simpsons, John Locke, Magna Carta, Charles I, the Founding Fathers, Hitler, Jim Crow Laws, Brexit and finally Donald Trump. In my walk around three learning areas I saw very effective feedback and review in Social Studies/MFL; tracking and independent learning in the applied learning area and in Maths today not only sublime learning from the PGCE teacher but rich and stunning curriculum enrichment supporting extended learning for all maths students. These moments really are the best times of being a Head.
The school has been looking recently at exactly what sort of network and partnership with other schools and organisations we should collaborate with to ensure Wyedean School is a high performing & innovative school. We took a huge step closer this week as we looked in leadership and in governor meetings at a partnership with some of the very best and outstanding schools in England. Wyedean School believes in all sorts of networks and partnerships and one of the most successful ones we have been involved in over the last 6 months is the one with the University of Cardiff and the Confucius Institute. On Monday evening the school held its first ever Mandarin Festival and my thanks to local primary schools, parents and the Confucius Institute for supporting the event. The Chinese Lion from the group at Bristol University was wonderful to see and certainly entertained the students from Bream and Offa’s Mead in the front row. Some great photos on the school’s Twitter also on Wyedean Sports Twitter showing the success of the Wyedean Warriors and well done to Year 8 and 10 girls football teams this week in particular. County finals at Rednock School coming up on the 15th March.
As the region Mandarin hub/hwb it is astonishing how we have been able to get Mandarin delivered to students from The Dell to St Briavels primary schools and many more in between in the Wye Valley and Forest of Dean areas. This week across England Year 6 students and their parents found out their 1st choice secondary school for September. In response to the many phone calls we have had here since Tuesday from both sides of the border we will have places available and we have already created additional teaching groups. The same goes for Sixth Form places as we have had a record intake. We have been working with the Welsh Assembly to provide the opportunity for students from Welsh medium primary schools to continue their Welsh in what is believed to be a first for an English school. So from September students will have the opportunity to study French, Spanish, Mandarin, German, Welsh and with our funding and partnership with the Classics dept. of Bristol University, Latin.
I am attending the annual educational leadership conference for ASCL this weekend in Birmingham where, amongst others, Nicky Morgan is giving the key note as well as Sir Michael Wilshaw and Sir David Carter speaking respectively. I am not convinced that despite the opportunity to see and listen to these heavyweights of education I wouldn’t prefer to see the class of top set Year 9s that I saw working in Maths this morning so well with their teacher.
26th February 2016
"Education is the silver bullet. Education is everything" Sam Seaborn, 'The West Wing'.
My apologies for being slightly political here but in line with the national focus in schools on "British Values" and this week the topic being democracy I have been exchanging a few emails and Skype sessions with friends in the States about the consequence of a possible President Trump come November's presidential election in the US. They in return have asked what happens with a possible "Brexit" here in the UK if the referendum vote chooses to support Britain leaving the EU. I don't know what will happen but it was the two main topics of conversations with Quebec partner school, Ecole Ploybel Montreal, we spoke with over Skype this week. We did intend to talk about the planning of our partner exchange visit for 2017. I have been indulging a more idealistic, albeit fictional time, in American politics by catching a few re-runs of 'The West Wing' recently. Sam Seaborn, played by the actor Rob Lowe, not only quotes education is the silver bullet but his character goes onto to declare that "…schools should be palaces".
I saw a school that did look like a palace this week in the shape and form of Torquay Academy as they hosted the latest conference of the National Schools Commissioner, Sir David Carter’s "Race to Outstanding" group. Principal Steve Margetts, together with the staff and students of Torquay Academy, has a school that has not only significantly improved standards and attainments but considerably raised expectations and the aspirations of the kids and community it serves as a school. The members of my leadership team who participated in the conference took back a lot of ideas from the day that we could look at incorporating at Wyedean as we continue to strive to be high performing school in all that we do. Talking with Sir David at the conference it is clear there is a real momentum to continue to build networks and partnerships between academies that raise outcomes for students and the communities the schools serve. It is a real privilege to be in this small group of schools and work with school leaders dedicated to sustainable and meaningful school improvement. One of the lasting impressions I have taken away is Steve Margetts firm belief in high aspirations and expectations of his staff and students. This was clear in the powerful learning environment created in the academy.
I came back late from Torquay but in time to catch the last hour of the Year 7 consultation evening. It is hard to believe Year 7s are over half way through their first year. It is always one of the best parts of being a Head to be able to talk to parents directly and openly at such events. We have also been running a wide consultation with parents about the school as a fact finding forum and if more parents want to be involved in this forum then contact me directly at the school. A huge number of parents have taken advantage of the free Mandarin being offered by the Confucius Institute as part the Adult Education programme we have at Wyedean that was launched this week. This coming Monday at 6pm we have a huge Chinese Festival on at the school to celebrate Chinese New Year. Next week the preparations are under way led by our JK Rowling library for "World Book Day".
Today Wyedean has organised a "Wear it Purple" day to commemorate what would have been Natasha Scott-Falber's 18th birthday. She died of Toxic Shock Syndrome in February 2013. Purple was her favourite colour. The students will pay £1 to wear something purple for the non-uniform event. All many raised will go to FISCH, a charity that is building a drop-in centre for street children in Tanzania. Working in Africa was close to Natasha's heart after she visited Tanzania with her church while in Year 8. The event on Friday also serves to raise awareness of TSS. In addition to Wear it Purple, three Wyedean students are taking party in a sky dive to raise money for FISCH this weekend.
It is my eldest daughter's 7th birthday today and I am torn between this and the 6 Nations with Wales v France tonight - a fixture that is important in my family because of ties to both nations. Certainly the two most stirring anthems of the nations involved. Hopefully I may get back to watching a bit more of 'The West Wing' over the weekend as well as my daughter's 'cinema party' for 40 of her 'closest' school friends. To finish another long week and in light of Sir Michael Wilshaw's comments today about the teaching recruitment crisis and teachers choosing to go overseas the full Sam Seaborn quote I started this week's blog with is worth a re-visit for inspiration. Sam Seaborn: "…education is the silver bullet. Education is everything. We don't need little changes, we need gigantic, monumental changes. Schools should be palaces. The competition for the best teachers should be fierce. They should be making six-figure salaries. Schools should be incredibly expensive for government and absolutely free of charge to its citizens, just like national defense. That's my position. I just haven't figured out how to do it yet".
5th February 2016
“Becoming is better than being” Carol Dweck
I have been fascinated by the Iowa caucus vote this week and if you are interested in US politics and history there is a podcast every Sunday until the November election from the Washington Post taking each of the 44 presidents and examining their lives and legacy. The becoming in this case is very often more fascinating that the being. Interestingly Jefferson doesn’t have being president on his gravestone as a legacy. And it is astonishing to think that he and Adams both died within hours of each other on the 4th July fifty years after the Declaration of Independence.
In a week where a group of 6th Formers gave me a divided analysis on Britain’s future in the EU we welcomed staff and students from a French partner school in St Tropez to spend the day in Wyedean on Tuesday. And as if by magic the sun shone like a warm spring day, not quite the French Riviera but almost the Cotes de Wye. Our year 7 left in the early hours of Saturday morning for their long awaited visit to France and if you have a look at the school’s Twitter they had a superb time this week and my thanks to staff, parents and students.
The Science Learning Area here at Wyedean continues to take curriculum enrichment to another level and I am pleased to see Year 8 have been chosen to represent the school at the Salters Festival of Chemistry at the University of Bristol. On Wednesday the year 9 finalists went before an audience and an outside panel of experts for the final of Fame Lab UK and a place at the Cheltenham Festival. A huge thanks to all staff and Fame Lab for their support of this very powerful competition. Just have a look on the school’s Twitter. I am very proud of our students none more so than in those moments listening to individual students talking knowledgably and confidently about their chosen topic. Well done to all the student finalists. I met with Gwent Wildlife Trust on Thursday and incredibly Year 8 Sean Crabbe has won the John Muir photography award. Well done Sean.
The Gospel Choir took part in the Music for Youth Primary Promenade concert in Cheltenham on Thursday and the Wyedean Warriors continue with their sporting success this season. The Year 9s won 2:1 against Dean Academy this week and the Year 7s beat them 10-5 at rugby. With the 6 Nations starting this weekend there will be a lot of friendly rivalry over the next few weeks between our English and Welsh school components. With the odd dash of loyalty to Scotland, Ireland, France and even Italy. The 6th Form football team beat Newent 2:1 in the County Cup and are through to the next round.
I met with the new intake of PGCE teachers from UWE this week and the school’s partnership with universities like UWE and Bristol is having a very positive impact on our priority to ensure that the Wyedean approach is about compelling learning experiences challenging all of our students. One of the English teachers, Lucy McManus, has just received an outstanding commendation from UWE for the work she has done with them on training PGCE teachers in effective A Level teaching. Lucy was commended by visiting Danish colleagues in partnership with UWE in October for her work.
We are now more than half way through the academic year at the end of week 20 and as I hear Year 11 go off down the corridor for their 2 hour walk and talk Maths mock their approach towards this final stretch of learning and revision before the exam season is impressive. Next week we break for half term and the staff have a two day inset on Thursday and Friday aimed at improving even further teaching and learning. It is our core business and the reason we are here. Next week we say goodbye to our friend and colleague, Finance Director Jeanine Allen, who is moving to a school in the North West. Jeanine has given the school 10 years of dedicated service and she leaves with our warmest wishes.
One of my best moments this week was my Year 7 History class looking at the legacy of King John. We started the lesson thinking he was terrible and finished the lesson thinking not so sure he deserved all the bad press. I am sure King John preferred “becoming” as opposed to his legacy of “being” Nice to close the classroom door and get on with getting lost in the late C12th/early 13th. At least for a short time. Cymru am byth Sunday!
29th January 2016
“Learning is not attained by chance, it must be sought for with ardour and attended to with diligence” Abigail Adams
It’s hard to believe we are at the end of January already and we are talking in school about February half term. This Friday lunchtime I was asked several times by students “when do we have the next break?” The weather doesn’t feel very wintery right now especially in contrast to the snow scenes from North America last weekend. Life in school very much feels business-like as progress is made through courses, especially those with summer examinations looming. Year 11s have started their individual formal guidance meetings in school and I was struck this week how focused various students I met with were fixed on their hoped for pathways at Wyedean Sixth Form after GCSEs.
I think I have mentioned before how I was surprised by the large number of questions from students in September about my plans for uniform. As opposed to questions on learning or opportunities in school I had in mind as a new Head. I do believe strongly in school identity and students and staff feeling pride in their school. Well this week we had the Year 10 Careers interviews. These are supported by local organisations, employers, governors and local business people. It gives students the opportunities to meet with them and be interviewed and go through where they are right now. It is very powerful and necessary as we prepare students for the World outside of school. The Year 10s came dressed in “business wear” and looked very impressive in how professional they looked. I joked with a lot them that this could be the new uniform. Have a look at the school’s Twitter for an example.
In Wednesday’s Teaching and Learning briefing the Creativity Coordinator gave a rich talk on what she has done with the brief of Creativity and staff have lots of ideas already concerning the school’s “Creativity Festival” scheduled for early July. We are looking forward to our primary partners, local communities and even some of our international partner schools joining us in this celebration of creativity. Just after the briefing I caught up with my colleagues from English and MFL who had spent the previous day with the Classics Dept of the University of Bristol preparing for our Latin courses we are introducing. It is fair to say they were definitely buzzing from the day and ready to get going.
I was lucky to speak to a number of parents on Thursday at the Year 8 consultation evening and this is always a great way of being able to catch up – much more preferable to email. I sat with a number of individual parents who wanted to talk about how Wyedean can support the number of students from Welsh medium primaries who choose the school but would like to continue with their Welsh. Well, in what we think is a first for an English school, we are introducing the opportunity for these students to continue with their Welsh at Wyedean. I need to add here, and apologies for the boast, but last year from my school in Powys I did get Welsh onto Skype Classroom as one of their languages. The Music department are also working on the programme for the school’s Eisteddfod in March.
I get a number of emails from parents regarding homework/home learning and this week as part of our commitment to better digital learning, our digital learning coordinator came back from BETT 2016 with a great tool and app (Show My Homework) that will really ensure home learning supports and complements school learning. This will also support further independent learning for the student.
I have witnessed a battle royal of student leadership this week as the two respective Prom Committees for Years 11 and 13 have fought it out for the coveted “Valentine’s Disco” slot for lower school. Even dividing a brother and sister in those year groups though to see their student leadership in action is just a delight. It’s a big part of what makes this job so rewarding. Finally best of luck to Jessica Fudge this weekend in the area final of the Rotary Club “Young Chef” competition and I hope the weather is good for Year 7 on the French trip going out tomorrow. My thanks to Beky, Dai, Martyn and Gwenda for all of their hard work on this – early start tomorrow at 5am!
22nd January 2016
"The terminology of 'a culture of high expectations' is in itself complex and problematic, but any opportunity to explicitly raise expectations should be seen as a moral imperative" Julie Smith
I spent most of Friday at the Gloucestershire secondary Heads conference listening to a variety of speakers talk and debate some of the most pressing and pertinent issues surrounding education today. Sir John Dunford, the "Pupil Premium Champion" gave a very forthright account of what the best schools are doing to ensure a big chunk of learners are not written off and actually have measures put in place to allow them educational opportunities that raises their expectations as well. Bradley Simmons, head of OfSTED in the SW, talked through the new Sept 2015 framework and what this means for schools especially in terms of the deeper expectations of the role of governance, safeguarding, pupil premium and more able students. Wyedean School wants to move from "Good" to "Outstanding" and to be considered "high performing" in everything we do so it was with interest I read the final DfE League Tables published last week comparing the GCSE 5x A*-C with English and Maths.
Educational funding policy concerns all schools and there was nothing reassuring at the conference from the chair of the Commons select Committee, Neil Carmichael MP, for any school leader in the room. Telling schools to "do more for less" and expecting them to aspire to "World Class" education on funding levels last seen in the mid-1990s challenges even the most optimistic of school leader. One of the other areas of contention is the government's wish for "90% of children" to be studying EBacc subjects. The Chief Inspector of OfSTED, Sir Michael Wilshaw, has publicly challenged the thinking for this proposal and consultation with the DfE ends on the 29th Jan (English.BACCALAUREATE@education.gsi.gov.uk). My background is strongly with the International Baccalaureate (the IB) and I have looked on in bemusement over the years as several different governments, both sides of the border, have attempted to take the word "baccalaureate" and apply it to suggest they are actually joining a curriculum together with cross curricula subjects and strands that enhance learning. I do believe the days of viewing education as dry, stand alone, disjointed and disconnected subjects forming a student's curriculum are long gone but educational debate still needs to go some way to look to the sort of education the IB provides and make sure all students have the opportunity to develop knowledge and skills to equip them for life-long learning and high aspirations. Last week we held our Year 9 "Options Evening" and we have worked hard to provide different curriculum pathways and individual learning for our students. What all staff here want for Wyedean is a curriculum, both formal and informal, that raises expectations, challenges all learners and equips students for the C21st globalised World.
A clear example of this comes from the Science Learning Area on a daily basis. Students were fortunate enough to go to the GCSE Science Live event at Oxford last week and we are really pleased that our students are through to the Science Fame Lab final at the Cheltenham Festival in February. I have also been following the recent sporting success of our very own "Wyedean Warriors" on Twitter. The student council executive have moved our proposal for the school’s "learning garden" forward and we were really pleased to be awarded 420 saplings by the Woodland Trust as part of this commitment to the learning environment of the school. We are in the Forest of Dean after all. The respective coordinators of digital, creative and global learning all presented to the Full Governors on Tuesday and it felt reassuring to see how expectations for all learners are being raised. I agree totally with my colleague in English, it is our moral imperative as educators to have a culture of high expectations for all of our students from all of our staff.
15th January 2016
“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, what are you doing for others?” Martin Luther King Jr.
The sunshine on Friday was just so bright. I had a meeting for Headteachers in Shire Hall in Gloucester to look at ways in how we can collaborate more to get even more for the students in our county and in the Forest of Dean in particular. Despite the Thursday night forecast there was no Arctic blizzard hitting Bristol anytime soon as I drove up the M5. The cathedral looked magnificent in the morning winter sun and I prepared for a couple of hours in a room potentially feeling the opposite of what I was feeling walking through the medieval streets due to the severe financial situations all schools are now facing. I have a wry smile whenever I hear anyone official say “we have to learn to do less for more”. I am still waiting for guidance on how I tell that to my support staff doing everything and more for the school or my teachers who are ensuring every lesson is a compelling learning experience by working long into their evenings.
Thursday had been a long, intense but necessary day as the school held interviews to appoint the next Deputy Head. We were very fortunate to have such a strong field of candidates apply and at the end of the process the acting Deputy Head, Rob Wagland was appointed permanently to the post. This week we have the same process for the Finance Director role. As a new Head, relatively speaking now, both posts are crucial in helping me to take the school forward and develop an outstanding educational experience for the students of Wyedean. I took my assembly with Year 11 on Monday with this in my head as I delivered an assembly around the theme of motivation. Year 11s are now more than half way through their academic year and we have had the mocks and latest round of progress updates to make sure everyone is on track. I am always a bit wary of using my own experience to “motivate” anyone because an individual’s experience doesn’t speak to everyone and can back fire. My experience is fairly straight forward. My father worked underground digging coal for nearly 40 years and I was very lucky to be in a school where teachers saw education as the ladder of opportunities and literally would push books at you whether you liked it or not. There was a real passion for developing a love of learning and to be curious about the World. Teachers did really talk about “lighting a flame” and passing it on. I think of this often when I talk to any students. The Historian (and famous descendent of possibly my favourite president, John Adams) Henry Adams once famously said “A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops”. I think it is still true, even more so. One of the joys of watching my colleagues when they teach is that passion and enthusiasm for the very thing that once lit a light in their head. The area I came from is full of history. Any visitor to my beautiful heimat of Shropshire gets the “15 minutes of 3000 years of British history” just by driving from the Iron Age hill fort on the Wrekin, past Roman Wroxeter, by the medieval Abbey at Buildwas and through the Coalbrookdale valley to Ironbridge where the modern age began in the early C18th and the birth of the Industrial Revolution. It lit my spark for history a long time ago!
The UCAS deadline for applications on Friday made me think back to how lucky I was that teachers I knew pushed me to get GCSEs, A Levels and then to look at university at the first person in my family to do so. I thank all those wonderful educators daily in my mind. So back to how we do less for more. I think in the current climate all educators, support staff in schools, community and parents need to collaborate and do more together. I have also seen the power of better meaningful conversations about better education and how we all achieve this goal. Over the last couple of weeks governors, parents, staff and students have been working out how we can develop a “learning garden” at the school. I saw how powerful these were in places like northern Thailand for the students as places to learn especially independent learning. We could give up and say there is no government money and budget cuts or we can look at how we look at other ways funding this and make it happen.
I left the meeting on Friday very optimistic about what could be done for our schools and communities in the Forest of Dean and Wye Valley. It takes leadership and persistence. And maybe the odd prayer in Gloucester Cathedral. In the week of Martin Luther King Day, a day marked as a Federal holiday in the US. I caught the film “Selma” over Christmas about the Civil Rights movement in Alabama and the freedom marches of the mid-60s. When LBJ stands in front of Congress and utters “We shall overcome” you know we can. "Yes we can" as the man said running for president all those years later.
8th January 2016
“In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer” Albert Camus
Happy New Year. Like many people this morning I found myself scraping ice off the car at 6am ahead of driving to work. It seems the deluge of rain we have experienced throughout the winter so far is about to be replaced by a cold spell next week. I had a Year 9 boy ask me in the corridor at break yesterday about “snow days”. He did grin as he finished his question.
We started Monday back after the break straight into a school day and straight on with lessons and learning. I think this is the first time for many years as an educator I have started back in January without an INSET day. I know my daughter’s school had an INSET delaying the inevitable return to a Tuesday and she also has a very short half term to February of only 4 weeks. Not a lot of time compared to the 15 weeks between 1st September and Christmas. This stretch of the academic year is always about consolidating the foundations of the autumn and quietly concentrating on and building ‘learning-knowledge-understanding’ for all classes but especially the exam groups ahead of the summer. We have the Year 9 option process ahead this term and the timetable for 2016-17 is more or less underway following the first release of numbers for projected Year 7s and 12s potentially starting in September 2016.
The Year 11s had their subject consultation evening last night and I am continued to be impressed with this year group especially the way they approach their learning, their post 16 options and the general way they have developed as independent learners. Parents were full of praise for the support the school is giving and there is a lot of praise for how useful GCSEPod has been in learning as well as the improvement in communication through the Wyedean “MySchoolapp”.
I was thrilled this week ahead of the UCAS 15th January deadline to see the range and number of offers Year 13s have been getting from universities including a number of students getting into Oxford following December interviews. The record surge in applications to Year 12 is encouraging and we are still accepting applications for 6th Form. In Year 7 we have had to create another teaching group mid-way through the academic year to accommodate the request for places and I am pleased to say we have created those places for parents who have contacted us to bring their child here to be educated.
One of the initiatives at Wyedean School now underway in 2016 is the school’s development of Latin in the curriculum. I once attended an international conference where one talk was entitled “Where once we taught Latin we will now teach Coding” – my first question was simple: “why not both?” We are working in partnership with the University of Bristol and the educational charity “Classics for All” to develop Latin as a cross-curricula project between the English and MFL learning areas. Colleagues from both Learning Areas are at Bristol University working later this month. Studies show how Latin can significantly improve literacy and confidence in students and it an example of the innovative way we approach learning at Wyedean School. This year the severe national funding situation restricting schools in the way they develop the curriculum means educators have to be more innovative in ensuring all of our students continue to get a wide range of opportunities that challenge and stretch them as learners. I am extending this as a 2016 learning challenge to parents and the community with the start of free adult Mandarin courses here at Wyedean as part of our very successful adult learning programme and as a centre for the Confucius Institute. We are always learning and all of us are learners.
This week the SW Regional Schools Commissioner, Sir David Carter, has been named as the next National Schools Commissioner. Sir David is a very inspirational educational leader with a total commitment to every individual student getting the best education possible. Although a loss for the SW, nationally this is a very positive start to 2016 for schools and academies in England. I have been thinking of leadership all week especially looking at the news from Westminster regarding the forth coming EU referendum and the Labour re-shuffle. One of the most striking images of the week was President Obama announcing his decision to introduce gun controls with tears streaming down his face. It is hard to believe this is his last year as president and I know friends in the States are anticipating a potential Trump v Clinton vote come November. I read a little over Christmas and can heartily recommend the travel writer Paul Theroux’s book “Deep South” to try and understand modern America. As my American friend once said: “we are you, we just took a different route after 1776”.
If Monday was supposed to be the “worst” day of the year as people returned back to work and school today is supposed to be the day when all the resolutions on getting in shape are thrown out of the window at the end of a busy week first week of 2016. I know some will be thinking of “snow days” next week but personally there is too much to do and February half term is only 4 weeks away.
19th December 2015
“Christmas isn’t a season, it is a feeling” Edna Forbes
The buses have all left with our students heading off for a much needed break, staff have gone home to their families and the school is about to close for the holiday season after a long 15 weeks of a 39 week academic year. Term 1 is finally over and it is 2016 when we come back. And I need to see the new Star Wars film before the spoilers really take hold of cyber-space.
I spoke on Monday in Bristol about Headship and some of the challenges and rewards that go with the role. I have continued to be impressed every week with the talents and abilities at the school and Wednesday night in St Mary’s Church, Chepstow was no exception for the school’s carol concert. This was a great event where community had celebrated, commemorated, mourned and come together in this ancient building for hundreds of years. Hearing the various bands play and choirs sing their hearts out to the rafters made me think about the importance of marking moments of life and the cycle of a year in a community.
I had a meeting in Shire Hall, Gloucester mid-week to look at ways schools can manage shrinking budgets with the expectations of “doing more for less” – I drove back through the Forest of Dean knowing the new year will mean more creativity in how we look at getting additional funding and how the skills of leadership in planning this strategically are going to be needed even more. This will be the challenge for every school now and for the foreseeable future. I am very lucky at Wyedean to have incredibly professional and dedicated leaders at all levels and throughout the school. I was looking at the December newsletter (available now on the website) and the CPD review for this term amazed at how much my colleagues do to make sure kids get the best learning and the school goes forward. My optimism for the New Year ahead is already brimming over as we planned this week the applications for a regional arts centre to be here at Wyedean as well as for the Chinese New Year on the 8th February. The Year of the Monkey. Colleagues from English and MFL Skyped with the Classics department of the University of Bristol and the development of Latin to support English and language learning is one of the most exciting foundations we are putting down here to benefit all learners.
Year 11 mocks have just been completed and students are looking at their results planning what they have to do for the time they have left between now and exams. I had a few Year 11s in with me today going over revision tips and again how supportive GCSEPod has been already. I want all students and staff to get a good break over Christmas ready for the new year ahead and have emphasised this point strongly whenever it has come up. Staff who are retiring or going on maternity said their goodbyes this week. To Jenny Rickards, learning mentor for 13 years and supporting countless students we send our very best wishes as a school for your service and dedication. Enjoy the next chapter.
I have a couple of key appointments in January to my leadership team including a new finance director and a deputy head so I am definitely getting some rest with my family over the break. I am itching to see the new Star Wars film and will hopefully see it sometime next week. So it is time to face the “Black Friday” traffic and the queues of traffic trying to get to Cribbs Causeway. It is meant to be the warmest Christmas Day on record this year and I have wondered whether the “Christmas jumper” day that has now become a regular event shouldn’t be a “Xmas t-shirt” as I sit here in mine way too hot.
I wish all our Forest & Wye Valley communities at Wyedean School a Merry Christmas and best wishes for the New Year. PS: Don’t forget to download free from the App store – WS - “MySchoolApp”.
11th December 2015
“Leadership and Learning are indispensable to each other” John F. Kennedy
The end of the penultimate week…almost. It feels a long term and I know educators, support staff and students are gearing themselves up for that final week, week 15, of this long term. I am talking about my Headship experience in Bristol on Monday and I have been doing a lot of reflecting over these last 3 months as the new (newish now) Head of Wyedean School. I had an opportunity to have such a conversation with the director of education for Gloucestershire, Jo Grills, who very kindly came to visit the school on Wednesday. Jo made a very astute comment as she left about the school reception and how important this first impression of the school is for visitors, staff and students. Jo was very complimentary as were the parents who came in for the Year 13 evening last night. I had a similar experience in Severnbanks School Lydney on Monday when I went to visit the Head there, Pam Howells. It was lovely to hear the singing of the students rehearsing the Nativity play as well as talk to Pam about how the schools in the Forest of Dean need to work more closely and how we should continue to lift the aspirations of our students. Pam is a very inspirational and dedicated Head and she referred to herself several times as a “proud Forester”. Those students and the community know how fortunate they are to have an educator like Pam as Head.
I have been really keen as a Head to keep building the links we have with own Forest and Wye Valley communities here. I have only ever known strong community-school partnerships and how we work together to raise the aspirations of our young people. I have seen so much of this partnership over the last 3 months and it was very evident this week. The new food hall for Marks & Spencer opened up in Chepstow this week and on Tuesday the Gospel Choir were invited to sing at the opening. The manager was thrilled as were the many shoppers who were not necessarily walking into the store but stayed listening to the singing. On Wednesday evening the school held the first ever International Christmas Market for Wyedean. It was a lovely event as many parents and students turned out to support the evening. This will be an annual event for the school and community and plans are already underway for next year. This may read strange for a Head to write but I really enjoyed the Full Governing Body meeting on Tuesday. We welcomed many new parent and academy governors and although items such as the cuts in education across the country are sobering topics the support and ideas from the governors supporting the school was a perfect example of leadership for me. Every stakeholder at Wyedean wants this school to be even more of a high performing school and even more aspirational than it has already reached. I met with PGCE teachers this morning ahead of their second placements. It is heartening to know the quality of new teachers and their passion for learning means a torch of education is continually being passed on. I was reminded of the moment in “The West Wing” quite a few years ago where the character Sam Seeborn gives a speech where he declares “Education is the silver bullet, education is everything”. Never a truer word said.
One of the best parts of the job is like this morning when my head of MFL came in to my room at 7:45am and told me the plans she has for Mandarin and Chinese as Wyedean as a Confucius Hub. It is poetry to hear of the opportunities for students and staff such as Chinese New Year on the 8th Feb, a Chinese Business Etiquette course for 6th Formers, Shanghai Maths teaching model and more Mandarin for our primaries. And on Tuesday we Skype with the University of Bristol Classics School to discuss the Latin programme we are starting here at Wyedean. I know we live in austere times but we have reservoirs of hope in how we look at learning and life opportunities for our students.
A couple of years ago Wyedean School students campaigned in the Welsh Assembly about the lack of safety on the Chepstow-A48 bridge. This week we cannot say thank you enough for the completed safety barrier that allows our students crossing from Chepstow to get to school safely. I am about to drive back across that bridge and see my middle eldest daughter in her first primary school nativity play this afternoon. I will be thinking of those kids in Lydney performing to their proud families as I watch my Annie as a proud dad this afternoon. Education is about these moments! More of them please.
4th December 2015
"If a single flap of a butterfly’s wing can be instrumental in generating a tornado, so can all the previous and subsequent flaps of its wings, as can the flaps of the wings of millions of other butterflies, not to mention the activities of innumerable more powerful creatures, including our own species." Edward Lorenz, ‘Predictability: Does the Flap of a Butterfly’s Wing in Brazil Set Off a Tornado in Texas?'
My apologies for the delayed post of the blog. I had a very inspiring day in a conference in Leamington Spa for Headteachers last Friday. You may read that last sentence right but you did read what you thought you had read first time around. I wasn’t expecting to be inspired so much but as I later drove home through the Friday chaotic traffic around Birmingham to get back to Bristol to see my daughter perform at her primary school’s Xmas fair it was like a light bulb had come on in the late November gloom. The conference, not the dancing in a crowded Christmas Fair in a school. I had 20 minutes and a coffee at the start of the day talking one to one with the educational legend Sir Tim Brighouse. He was the keynote speaker and we talked about the challenge of leadership in education, school vision and some of the issues schools are facing in a climate of tough budget conditions and increasing pressures from government. But in all of this Sir Tim spoke about passionately about optimism in education and the hard work that takes place in schools every day in making the difference in young lives.
There has been plenty of this on offer over the last couple of weeks in Wyedean School as we entered December this week and have just two weeks left of this term before we break up for Christmas. I have to thank at this point 6th Former Lucy Edwards and her father Charlie for his extremely kind donation of a Christmas tree for school that wouldn’t look out of place in Trafalgar Square. There is a good photo of it on the school’s Twitter. Horizon Nuclear sponsored a very exciting STEM project with our Year 7s this week and it was great that Andy Netley, the wildlife editor on the BBC’s Natural History programmes came into school to show and talk to Science students about how he uses digital literacy to put the award winning and highly acclaimed programmes of David Attenborough together. The 6th Form have raised over £500 towards Chepstow Foodbank and the 6th Form were out in force on the 3rd Dec talking to Year 11s and their parents, both from Wyedean and other local schools at the 6th Form Open Evening. There was a huge turnout from students looking at Wyedean for their next choice after GCSEs. The academic success of the school was highlighted this week with a call from OfSTED…yes, colour drained at first on getting the “call”. They were calling to praise the school’s success and to say they were using Wyedean as a case study nationally. I did see in the Guardian on the weekend the “Let’s move to Chepstow” article so maybe the area is about to have a huge surge of people wanting to live here in our unique corner between two rivers.
The school has been working on developing further World Class leadership and it was an absolute privilege to be able to Skype with my old mentor from Virginia, superintendent of schools, Bill Bixby. Bill has done a lot of work around positive school culture with his schools and I worked with him on the International Baccalaureate curriculum (the IB) in the US. Bill and his school leaders skyped with Wyedean school leaders looking at comparative models of leadership and school improvement and we have agreed a regular programme over the year. It was a pleasure to welcome a partner school from Sir David Carter’s group we are in. The “Good to Outstanding” group of 12 high performing schools in the South West of England. The positive atmosphere of Wyedean was praised as well as the purposeful learning environment. Above all BTEC Catering provided an amazing lunch!
The school took part today in Skype Classroom’s World event, their “Skype-a-thon”. My Year 10 Critical Thinking group talked with Tatiana Popa and her wonderful students in Georgi Asachi High School in Chisinau, Moldova as part of the event and our eTwinning-British Council school partnership. The students talked on a range of topics including the Parliament debate this week on Syria, EU membership and the status of languages in both countries. Oh, and “One Direction” being huge in Chisinau. Global, digital and creative learning all in one hour. Learning is truly C21st and World Class at Wyedean as these compelling learning experiences are part of the education we believe in at the school. The Maths Learning Area have just been awarded a place on the Maths Hub project with the University of Worcester and is a huge accolade for our colleagues to be involved with this prestigious development in getting students engaged in mathematics. I have been working with our Oxbridge candidates who are on interview over the next couple of weeks and we have talking through the similar experiences and opportunities at Wyedean coupled with their academic success that are making them stand out as students. My thanks to former Head John Claydon for coming into work with these students as well. John is in Chepstow with students on Sat 5th Dec, 9-12pm and with the local Amnesty International group in the Methodist Hall inviting people to sign cards for prisoners of conscience.
I have been looking over my diary for next week and I am meeting the head and students at Severnbank primary school Lydney on Monday as well as looking forward to the school’s International Christmas Market on the 9th December here at Wyedean. I know the Creativity Learning Area have been very busy rehearsing for the Christmas Concert at St Mary’s Chepstow on the 16th Dec. Before then they will be singing at the opening of the new Marks & Spencer in Chepstow.
I think as I get older I am seeing more and more the impact of “millions of butterflies wings flapping” and that is what makes the school community here work and aspire together to make a real impact and difference in lives every day. Two weeks to go – I have been smiling all the way from the 1st September until December. Well, almost .
20th November 2015
“Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.” H. G. Wells
Like many people I woke up on Saturday morning to be confronted with the shocking and appalling events that were still unfolding in Paris following the IS terrorist attacks on innocent people doing nothing more than enjoying their Friday evening in Paris. At a football match, in restaurants, cafes & a concert. My friend who teaches and lives in Paris spoke about the absolute numbness she felt and had spent this week calling friends and parents to see if they were ok. This week in school students and teachers have been discussing why this senseless violence has been perpetrated. I have been proud of my students when I have heard their discussions who see these people from IS not as a representation of Islam but of something more akin to nihilism and senseless destruction of innocent lives. A Muslim teacher colleague and friend from Indonesia who I worked with in Bandung on Java, Ibu Eha, spoke to me this week and said “Tell your students & community IS doesn’t speak for Islam. As Muslims our teachers, parents and students believe only in peace and tolerance”.
In school we had to decide whether our visit to France for Year 7 should still go ahead, scheduled for this week. The decision to postpone until after new year was the right one, later confirmed by the FCO website advising no school travel to France this weekend. Our parents were brilliantly supportive and we cannot thank them enough for the way they have worked with the school on this. I was interviewed by BBC Radio Gloucestershire on Monday about the decision we had taken as a school to postpone the visit. I also spoke on the programme about what we do as a school to ensure our students are educated about World events such as the Paris Attacks and how we develop their ability to understand these events. The HG Wells quote in this blog has never been more apt for me as an educator. This coincided with the school marking the British Council’s “International Education Week” with a series of events as Wyedean School believes so strongly in the high importance global education plays in C21st learning. We have been working with our Quebec and Spanish partner schools this week and it is so good to hear parents and students in our partner primary schools praising the joint transition work through the innovative Mandarin learning we have provided.
The Creativity Learning Area held their annual Year 7 music concert on Tuesday night. My surprise swung between the sheer talents this year group has in those amazing singing voices to how so many parents had made it into school beating Storm Barney. It was also good to see the entire year group performing confidently together and how proud parents and teachers were of the performances. On Thursday KS3 were treated to a workshop provided by G Dance and the disabled actor Nicola Miles-Wildin. Wyedean School sees creativity as another key element in C21st learning and this was a great opportunity for the students to create great dance set pieces. Nickie is coming back in January.
We have found this week that due to the high demand for places at Wyedean School we are having to create a new teaching group in Year 7 in week 12 of the academic year! I cannot thank parents enough for their belief and confidence in Wyedean School as the place they want their children to be educated. We are also being inundated with requests for information about the 6th Form Open Evening here on the 3rd Dec. The clear academic focus and success of Post 16 learning at Wyedean is very evident day to day as I walk around the school and talk to students. I spent time this week working with the first of the Oxbridge applicants who have been given their interview dates this week. I am glad Wyedean School is about high quality A levels & Level 3 qualifications but also about supportive enrichment and extra-curricula opportunities that builds confidence and skills in all of our students.
It is a crisp, cold but bright Friday here today, with frost forecast for the weekend & into the week ahead. My American principal colleague who is Skyping with my leadership teams next week (we are having a discussion on “positive school culture”) mentioned it is “Thanksgiving” next Thursday in the US then the ubiquitous "Black Friday" that follows. The latter, a tradition we seem to have picked up in the UK more and more. Having enjoyed several Thanksgivings I would prefer the former as something we followed in the UK focusing on family being together enjoying a meal rather than rushing manically out to the shops in November for Christmas gifts. Sometimes we do need to give thanks more often for the simple but relevant things we have underpinning our lives. This is what events like last weekend bring home to everyone.
13th Nov 2015
“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better” Albert Einstein
A school I work with in Delhi, Bal Bharati School, sent me greetings for Diwali, the Hindu festival of light. I gave a talk over video conference this week explaining Bonfire Night and the importance of light also in the increasing darkness of late November with winter around the corner, a long way to go before the end of term at the end of week 10 and the shortest day still far off in December. Like any good educator I felt I had got this across well. First question: “So Guy Fawkes. You light bonfires and have fireworks to celebrate the fact he tried to blow up Parliament?” No.
Another annual November commemoration was marked this week with the community act of Remembrance held in Tutshill to mark the 11th November Armistice with a very fitting service and the two minute silence. As I stood with my students from Wyedean School I could see other local schools represented, representatives from The Rifles battalion were there, local scouts and guides organisations, Rotary Club, The British Legion as well as other members of our Forest community. All to remember the significance of the names of local people read out who made the ultimate sacrifice and truly did give their today for our tomorrow. The strength of our community at that moment was very powerful. It is incredible what can be achieved when we come together for a common purpose.
The thought of community wasn’t lost on me as we held our Autumn “Academic Mentoring Days” on Thursday and Friday at Wyedean. I have never known a successful school who doesn’t have a good working partnership with its parents and carers. These opportunities are vitally important so parents & carers get the chance to raise issues with their child’s teachers, sometimes difficult ones but often to reassure and all in the shared spirit of wanting the absolute best for our young people. It was so good to see so many parents & carers over the 2 days in Wyedean School. Our staff here never cease to amaze me with the time they will spend making sure the constant dialogue with home gets the best and gives the very best for our learners. I’ll say it again; I am privileged to be the Head of this school.
I am conscious of how we are a quarter of the way through the 39 week academic year already – minus the holidays. I gave two assemblies this week to Years 8 and 11 on the theme of “Time”. As a History teacher time for me is often a timeline with a start and finish with events in-between. For Dr Who it definitely isn’t. With the risk of being controversial, I used the lovely clip from the best Dr Who ever, David Tennent, where he explains time as more like a “wibbly wobbly ball”. I know, possibly Christopher Eccleston. Sometimes we are not conscious of the amount of time we have and how precious this time is to make something good from it – hours on Candy Crush or Minecraft doesn’t count in case my family are reading this. My Year 10 Critical Thinking group on Thursday got so engrossed in their discussion on the refugee crisis they overran into their PE time – apologies for that.
Next week is the annual British Council’s “International Education Week”. Wyedean School will be using the week to focus on raising global awareness with our students so that they are connected to the World increasingly in which they live and their technology and media are a key part of this when used in a positive way. That awareness of ourselves as an individual, in our local community, in our national community and in our global society isn’t something unique to the C21st. It was there long ago in the minds of those people whose names were read out across our corner of the Forest on Wednesday morning as they were remembered in time.
6th Nov 2015
“A good decision is based on knowledge and not on numbers” Plato
I have struggled all week to comprehend how miserable, grey and wet this first week back after half term has been in contrast to the sunshine during the break. It’s hard to believe my 3 kids were playing in the sand and running into the sea at Brehac beach, northern Brittany this time last week. I drove up to visit Forest High School on Tuesday at the invite of the Head to see the hard work this school is achieving. The drive through the Forest in the autumnal fog was very atmospheric and I more or less stumbled upon the school as I arrived in Cinderford the fog was that thick.
Wyedean School is very much about working in partnership and collaboration with all sorts of partners and networks and on Wednesday our Mandarin teachers arrived from the Confucius Institute to begin teaching Mandarin to our primary partner schools at Offa’s Mead, Tutshill, Bream and The Dell. We have a couple of global partnerships we are hosting exchange programmes with and our students who are hosting our Spanish partners were very excited to receive their letters and partner information. We are also working with a school in Montreal and this week Ecole Beloil held their information evening for parents and students as Wyedean students will be staying in Montreal next year with their exchange partners. As part of my work for the British Council I have been speaking over Skype to a number of schools looking at British political, cultural and historical issues. On Monday I spoke to our partner Lycee Rabelais in Paris about the importance of Remembrance and the Poppy in the UK at this time of year. Wyedean School will be taking part in the national remembrance observance next week and a representative group of staff and students will take part in local community remembrance. At half term a large group of History students from Wyedean School visited the WWI battlefield and commemoration sites in Belgium. Even a 100 years on the sheer number of names representing lives lost in this war and subsequent wars is hard to comprehend.
This week the success of the school was further recognised when the Rt Hon David Curry wrote to me inviting the school to contribute a case study to The Parliamentary Review annual publication. He cited in particular the 6th Form results and success as well as the recent invite by Sir David Carter to the school recognising the school is moving to “Outstanding” as a high performing school and a beacon of success in the area. I am very proud of the school always and the hard work staff do here day in/day out but this is wonderful recognition of what we are achieving here at Wyedean School.
Education is never far away in the national news and staff and parents were interested in the Secretary of State’s announcement of the possible return to testing for 7 year olds just as we are all getting used to “life without levels” at KS3. For Wyedean as an academy with the relative freedom over its curriculum and qualifications the relaxation on the EBacc was welcome news but the debate still continues. It has also been a week of year 11s here and from outside requesting information about the 6th Form Open Evening on the 3rd Dec.
I was lucky enough to visit the site of the proposed UTC today at the site of the decommissioned power station at Berkeley and was given a tour by the executive principal of South Glos’ & Stroud College group. It was very strange to be staring across at the Forest and Lydney from this side of the Severn.
My critical thinking group had a very lively debate in my room on Thursday as we discussed the meaning of “happiness”. With Halloween gone and Bonfire Night upon us my definition of happiness right now is watching a roaring fire and lots of noisy fireworks as we enter November and darker nights and mornings. And I would also be happier if some of my Year 7 boys didn’t get so muddy at lunchtime!
16th Oct 2015
"Education, therefore, is a process of living and not a preparation for future living" John Dewey
I have to start my weekly blog by praising my colleague and the students of Applied Media. I missed them out last week when I mentioned how impressed I was walking around the Applied Learning Area. The week has been filled with colleagues working hard on looking at how they mark work, the dialogue that follows and how students improve their learning as a follow up. Senior and middle leaders looked at student work this week as part of how we all work together to ensure there is consistency in marking and feedback. Hattie stressed the vital importance of this in the way a student learns and progresses. As part of looking at the quality of learning around the school the first round of lesson observations are well underway. As a new Head to Wyedean I am really keen to see students learning in their lessons across the curriculum. I have been lucky enough to see a lot of lessons in schools around the UK and abroad in my career. I was once doing a joint observation in a US High School where half a dozen students were asleep. I was writing my notes about the lesson reflecting the sleeping students when the superintendent for that county’s schools told me I had to ignore the factor of the kids asleep and look at the others. I know. The lessons I have seen this week were anything but about putting kids to sleep. The buzz for learning, energy and the engagement was something I would like to show the US high school I was reviewing back then as an example of real LEARNING.
I went to the first meeting in Nova Hreod School, Swindon representing Wyedean School as we are one of the handful of schools Sir David Carter has invited to work with him on his high performing schools programme as the education regional commissioner for the South West. Lord Nash, the Minister for Academies, spoke at length there at how he had seen some of the most under performing schools in London improve because of purpose, positive culture and leadership in a school. Sir David talked about "not a minute lost in lessons for learning" which resonated in my head as I watched a colleague deliver the most elegiac lesson to her students in year 11. It was like watching educational poetry in action. The work of Sir David’s group is about "Good" schools like Wyedean moving to "outstanding" as high performing schools in the South West. I am looking forward to the next 12 months working with my leadership teams linking with schools across the South West in this group.
This week the three World Class learning strands of digital learning, creativity and global learning that we believe at Wyedean are fundamental to C21st learning took a huge step forward with the various developments in learning across the curriculum and especially with our primary schools supporting this education. The school hosted local MP & the Chief Whip, the Rt Hon Mark Harper MP on Friday morning where we spoke to Mark about the current developments in English education. Mark saw our impressive gospel choir sing to him in the JK Rowling library which was light relief after 6th Form students scrutinised him over a range of topics from the EU referendum to Corbymania; plenty for the 6th Form Debate Group on Monday. Mark spent time with staff, students and governors as the GCSE Catering group hosted the event with cakes that would put a Parisian patisserie to shame.
We have had a community week that included meeting with Chepstow Rotary Club, seeing our parents at Beachley Barracks and the Year 10 information Evening. A busy end of week 7 finished off with the agreement of Latin being funded and introduced in the school in November and our partner school in Montreal holding a video conference with our Year 9 students who are working on a range of projects for their joint Quebec exchange programme in 2016. MFL worked with Applied Learning on the EU Coding scheme. I once attended a conference where the title of one talk was "Where once we taught Latin we now teach coding". At Wyedean we choose a rich curriculum - students here can do both! The Science learning area had the most incredible learning day today with "Tomorrow’s Engineers" - if you have a look at the school’s Twitter there are great photos of the event. Finally our director of 6th Form has been working hard to ensure the Oxbridge, Medics and Vets UCAS applicants are away for the 15th Oct. A large number applying this year so fingers crossed.
Definitely nothing to fall asleep in class for here at Wyedean. Half term starts after Wednesday next week and I think I am more than ready to see my beloved Brittany again at my wife’s family’s place on the coast to recharge my batteries.
9th Oct 2015
"We know what we are, but not what we may be" William Shakespeare
I was able to take my family to the Forest Festival on Sunday near Coleford at the kind invite of a parent of students at Wyedean. The sun was shining and the colours of the Forest around the festival ground gave the day a lovely sepia feeling. My daughters didn’t do too well at the turnip throwing competition but last year’s champion, “Bread”, sent a nice message over the school’s Twitter afterwards. It was good to see so many students from the school helping at the Festival and with their local community. I even managed to take in the steam railway at Parkend on the way back.
It was a delight to welcome the former Headteacher, John Claydon, into Wyedean School on Monday. John was Head from 1990 until 2005 and there were plenty of colleagues who remembered John and loved seeing him back. I visited St Briavels primary school on Monday afternoon and was just bowled over with the views from the playground looking down on the Wye Valley. The learning atmosphere there was pretty impressive too. The week has seen a constant flow of parents and year 6s walking around and seeing the school working following the open evening. It’s been interesting to take questions about education from a national policy point of view from a lot of parents. We have the Rt Hon Mark Harper MP in next week so maybe I will raise a couple of things with him as he sits in Cabinet.
The school’s cycle of looking at learning and progress is well under way and colleagues have been looking at lessons, learning and the work students produce as a focus. I walked around the Applied Learning Area this week which was a great experience to see a range of subjects from Computer Science, Design Technology, Food Technology and Business producing some really compelling learning. The sophisticated use of digital learning was particular impressive. School leaders looked at a really clever App in the Leadership Meeting on Thursday as a way of having a “Wyedean School” App that can help with better home communication with the school. The Year 11s had their information evening on Thursday and colleagues worked with parents and students in ensuring the students have a plan of action and support for the year. We are talking about “war boards” in leadership at the moment as we get to grips with the new Progress 8 measurement (another question perhaps for Mark Harper) and sometimes in education it does seem like you are preparing a military strategy. It’s why the talk of Christmas trees and the International Christmas market on the 9th Dec took my mind off OfSTED and government educational policy and back to the wonderful enrichment of whole school life. It was interesting to see how many students and staff could quote their favourite poets on National Poetry Day. We tweeted a particular nice take on Philip Larkin’s poem, “This be the verse”. Yes, THAT one.
So week 6 ends and half term is a little over 2 weeks away. Halloween and Bonfire Night still to come. The school’s Harvest Festival appeal for Chepstow Food Bank is in full swing and many thanks to all who have donated already. Still time to donate. No mention of the rugby only to say if Wales need Mr Jenkins and Mr Thomas to plug the injury gaps against the Aussies we can let them go for a fee, a large fee.
2nd Oct 2015
“The most influential of all educational factors is the conversation in a child’s home” William Temple
I drove back through the Forest of Dean today from a meeting of Gloucestershire Secondary Heads. The sun was shining and it was just glorious. One moment in a room full of serious conversation regarding the new OfSTED framework and potential further funding cuts, the next driving through the glorious sunshine of the Forest with the colours of autumn everywhere. The back drop from crossing the old bridge at Brockweir and through the Wye Valley and Tintern lifted my soul. You can see why Dennis Potter called it a heart shaped land on a day like this. On Monday I looked across the Severn when I visited Woolaston Primary School – what views. Actually what kids and staff at that school. Chepstow was bustling on a Friday as I passed Wyedean students on a field trip with Geography walking through the town.
On Thursday Wyedean School opened its doors and saw its community come through in their hundreds, from both sides of the border. Staff, students and governors showed off our school as parents and carers of years 5 and 6 came to look at their next destination in their educational journey. And a rugby match for Wales on as well! And we won! Cyrmu am Byth! Now England need to beat the Aussies. I asked my wife what I should be saying in my first Open Evening speech as the new Head after 5 weeks. It was easy, this school cares for all of its students and wants the best for every individual. If parents and carers want a school that takes their children and gives them support and stimulating, compelling learning and opportunities – come to Wyedean. And Open Day is every day for anyone at this school. We have so much to see here. I walked around the Creative Learning Arts area this week and was amazed at the creativity and original ideas from students in music, drama and art. I wrote to staff after Open Evening saying I was bursting with pride at the leadership and confidence of our students supported by the dedication and hard work of our professional staff.
The faith in the school and the strong foundations here have been rewarded with Wyedean School being chosen as only one of a handful of schools in the South West to work this year directly with the South West Regional Education Commissioner, Sir David Carter, on his group of schools working to become outstanding. This is an incredible accolade for the school and the staff as we continue to strive to deliver and develop World Class C21st learning here. The OfSTED meeting on Monday in Cheltenham was to look at how we should be working on progress for students as we shape as a school our curriculum and qualifications without capricious fads.
My Year 10 Critical Thinking group met with me on Thursday for our lesson and we looked at what we would need for an isolated existence other than food, shelter and water. The students all talked about stimulus for their minds. It was an enlightening discussion and refreshing to hear them say they would need to keep their minds active and to be engaged with the natural World. I mentioned Henry Thoreau living isolated in the woods in a cabin in Massachusetts to stimulate his senses for his writing. Not many of them fancied this for 2 years but wanted to get into the Forest of Dean this weekend, especially for the Forest Food and Drink festival this Sunday. I am going to take my wife and daughters. The festival of autumnal abundance and harvest bounty made me give another push to the school’s Harvest Festival support of Chepstow Food Bank appeal (see our school Twitter) this week. So with the sun shining and our heart shaped land looking at its best in autumn I finished the week looking at the plans for the school’s International Christmas Market on the 9th December. How long until Christmas? Staff are definitely smiling after this week in school.
25th Sept 2015
“The best way to predict the future is to create it” Peter Drucker
When I worked in Wiltshire I used to love the drive down to Avebury at this time of year, in particular to see the modern day druids on the stones for the Autumn equinox there emulating their Celtic ancestors from 2000 years ago. The idea of "equal-night" in Latin is the idea of balance for the Earth in terms of equal hours of daylight and night. My other favourite drive this time of year is through the Wye Valley to see the forest in all its autumnal glory. The academic year is already coming to the end of September and it is hard to think that it is October next week. The week in school has seen a lot of innovative foundations for the academic year ahead. The school's commitment to global learning and technology leapt forward this week with the beginning of Mandarin lessons and the visit of our new teacher from the Confucius Institute. I was lucky enough to spend time with the respective Heads of Offa's Mead and Tutshill primary schools in the last week and we will be able to develop Mandarin with these schools.
Today I had a group of students taking part in a video conference with schools in Moldova (where? Yes, the first question - which the Year 8s took straight to their geography teacher) and with France as part of our celebration of European Languages Day. Two Polish Year 8 girls here at Wyedean spoke eloquently about their ability to use English having lived here for a number of years, still feeling Polish, yet wanting to support either Wales or England in the World Cup this weekend (both are either side of the Wye). The technology is fantastic to aid this learning but not as tasty as the MFL café at lunchtime with huge queues out of the door with students tasting French, Spanish and German foods. All were using their foreign languages as they were served.
I walked around the Science Learning Area this week and was pleased to see the engagement, independent learning and the enquiring minds being challenged in the lessons. I joined Science Club on Tuesday where we made plenispheres, only to be told by a very confident Year 9 there was a brilliant app called StarApp which allows you to simply point your phone to the night sky to get the names of the constellations. His confidence fell when he didn’t know who Magnus Pike was though! His pitying look towards me as Headteacher said it all, so I went with Brian Cox instead.
The creativity today in Year 9 DT was incredible and it was nice to see students using their technology to enhance their learning as they actually made something physical. I still have the footstool I made in DT lessons myself, all these years later.
It has been hard to ignore the rugby this week and a colleague said the fanzone in Gloucester had been a very memorable experience. The year 10s on Wednesday soundly beat Dean Academy and drew with King’s College Gloucester in their midweek rugby game. Friday finished off well for me with the Year 7s performing a very scary Haka. I think even Sam Warburton would think twice about walking up close to face off these guys.
My educator's heart beat a little faster a few times this week as I walked around the campus seeing the school working as it does. I am still astonished at the hard work the teachers and support staff put in every day to make the school the success it is. The "World's Largest Coffee Morning" for MacMillan on Friday in the staffroom saw a side to the school we sometimes lose in the grade-grind Govian/Post-Govian era; colleagues talking, relaxing and being ready as professionals to make their lessons the best they can be for the students. My colleagues have led the implementation here this week of GCSEPod to improve learning and revision for KS4 enhancing and to use digital learning in a very positive way. The Positive School Culture here at Wyedean is helping us become the high performing World Class School we all aspire to be for our C21st learners.
It is Wyedean's Open Evening next Thursday 1st October. The staff cannot wait to show our community the experience and education that goes on in Wyedean every day as we work hard to balance all that we do so that as educators we are creating the opportunities for students through compelling learning linked to student success. I once worked far from Wiltshire for a while, in Bandung in Java. One of the principals I worked with repeated daily that we had to turn the dreams of kids into their futures. I have thought about that frequently as an educator as I reflect on the way we prepare our kids for their future. A week like this week and a month like this month tells me as a parent and an educator at Wyedean we are in the right direction and doing just that.
18th Sept 2015
"Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire" WB Yeats
We have come to the end of week three and thirty six more learning weeks to go; without the holidays. Autumn is definitely here, not just from the lovely iconic scene out at the front of school on Thursday with some of the primary school students knocking conkers from the trees but also from the torrential rain, mists and cooler air this week's weather has brought around the school campus. Saturday evening at Wyedean School saw the school's gospel choir perform for their 10th anniversary concert with a lovely mixture of past and present students singing their hearts out. What struck me most sitting in the audience listening to students talk about their love of the songs was the incredible confidence these students had speaking to parents and their community. In the week that Jeremy Corbyn tried a different style of engagement at Prime Minister's Questions and the rugby World Cup is about to get underway engaging the rugby world the week at Wyedean saw engagement of a different kind with the huge turnout on Thursday at the 6th Form Information Evening. I spoke to the 6th Form this week about something that had inspired and engaged me in my life and it was interesting to listen to the experiences of our Year 12s and 13 and what had influenced them to do the subjects they wanted to do and the university and career paths they are looking at following now. I did respect the one student who paused for a moment and said "sir, I am 17 and to be honest I haven't a clue but then I am hoping school gives me something to think about". Well, he is right. School will be giving him plenty to think about as he goes through his A Levels.
I spent some time with Year 11 and the English Learning Area this week and was impressed at how all the students could tell me where they were in their progress and what they were studying and more importantly who they were currently reading! A visitor walked with me around the school on Thursday and was struck by the innovation and engagement of the students in the school's motorbike club, aka "Barry's Bikes" after our long serving caretaker who gives his time to spend with these students each week. The Leadership Team has been working through the wonderful educational acronyms of SIP, SEF, QA & PM as well as looking at the Aspirational 8 and Progress 8 targets - the latter where the awful "bucket" system of rating subjects (Yeats would be spinning) is now how we describe the curriculum. What has sustained me and my colleagues through the week though isn't the thought of "filling buckets" but how the sparks of learning and opportunities are setting alight the individual imaginations of our kids be it the gospel choir, the inspirational literature, the new Mandarin lessons or the motorbike club. I have made a mental note to ask the 17 year old A Level student in a few months if the school has indeed lit a few sparks of inspiration in his mind. I hope it will. One final thing on a Friday, is it England or Wales in the World Cup in this corner of the UK? A colleague has Fiji in the sweep stake so that answers that one for him at least.
11th Sept 2015
Edutopia "Three things students want to hear - I believe in you; You have a purpose; How are you?"
It is interesting how staffrooms used to echo with the infamous piece of advice to younger teachers "don't smile until Christmas". It's not something I have ever been able to manage to see the point of and walking around the school this week in our first "normal" week back the amount of smiles and greetings from the students makes it impossible but to break into a broad grin. There is a lot of academic work around the idea of "positive school culture" and how schools need to be learning laboratories where students and their development are at the centre of all that we do. I have been impressed in my first 2 weeks at Wyedean at the level of commitment and hard work from the staff going into making sure this academic year starts as well as possible building on from last year's success with OfSTED and the summer results. The conversations I have enjoyed this week include discussing what sort of things we should be focussing on in schools in terms of new technologies supporting learning, the powerful impact of creativity, the need for global learning as well as ensuring our curriculum offers as many opportunities as possible. I had a wonderful moment this week when I went into the JK Rowling library in the school and heard our Carnegie Shadow reading group discuss their next book; "1984" or "A Clockwork Orange". My educator's heart beat a little faster to hear such a discussion.
One of the more interesting discussions I had this week with students is a question about uniform. I did point out to a group of Year 9s that as a new Head I would prefer for them to ask me about what will I do to develop new opportunities or new ways of making learning exciting. One of the highlights of the week was the agreement with the Confucius Institute to bring Mandarin teaching to Wyedean School for the next few years and to share with our local primary schools as the new hub for Mandarin teaching in the Forest of Dean/Monmouthshire area. Wyedean School believes passionately in international education and the school is supporting the local charity "Help Calais Chepstow" in collecting food and clothes as well as raising awareness about the refugee situation in Europe. All week the pastoral teams have been focussing on the issues behind the refugee crisis. From the global to the national this was the week where Queen Elizabeth II became the longest reigning British monarch in over a 1000 years whilst this Saturday it will be the flag waving of "Last Night of the Proms" signalling for many the end of summer. I know I will be going into my weekend smiling as another good week ends at Wyedean School ready to smile on Monday morning as the kids come back in for another week of learning. I won't even be thinking of how many weeks it is until Christmas - despite my local supermarket's best efforts with the Christmas decorations out already! Now there is a reason not to smile.
4th Sept 2015
"Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the Fall" F Scott Fitzgerald.
Summer is over, autumn is here and a new academic year has started. It also happens to be my first week as the new Headteacher of Wyedean School following the retirement of my predecessor, Clive Pemberton. Clive's predecessor, John Claydon (Head, 1990-2005) wrote me a welcome card for me to read on my first day in the job. "You'll find a tremendous well of goodwill in the local community and amongst the staff". One of the reasons I wanted to be the next Head of Wyedean School was due to its close relationship with the community. Having worked in schools in England and Wales where the community has a good and close relationship with the school I know how valuable this is for the success of the students. I am impressed with the dedication, professionalism and hard work of the staff at Wyedean and I am very proud and privileged to be the next Headteacher of the school.
All sorts of studies show how important these weeks and months are in autumn for successful learning and watching the new Year 7s arriving on Thursday eager to get started in secondary school made me think how quick the time also flies by in a 39 week academic year. The 6th Form have just had their best A Level results ever and by the time we have reached Friday with the rest of the school returning we are already back into the swing of school life. The staff worked hard on the inset days on excellent teaching and learning with a real tangible buzz and excitement about the year ahead. I want to build on the strengths of the school, identified rightly by last year's OfSTED and the summer result. In our priorities for the year as staff we discussed developing further outstanding learning, Digital Learning, International Education, Creativity and learning skills that a changing and fast paced C21st society requires. There are some great learning opportunities planned for the year ahead for our students.
This week has seen the worsening of the heart-breaking humanitarian crisis on the shores and borders of Europe. As we start this academic year with this backdrop in the news the reasons why we value education and the nurturing and development of our young people in the ethos and values of our community and society have never been more important.