Wednesday, October 5, 2016

An open invitation to future parents and students following our Open Evening

Thank you to all the parents, carers and children who came to our Y5-6 Open evening and joined in the events with such gusto!

It was a true pleasure to meet you and I hope that you got a flavour of what Sir Thomas Wharton Academy – a Co-operative Academy is all about.

As always with these events, time runs away with us, so if you would like to come back and experience what it is like here during the working day then please do contact us. We will arrange for you to visit and get a true feel for the warm, positive, disciplined and purposeful atmosphere that pervades our academy.

I became Headteacher two years ago and I still have that same feeling today, as I did then, of being extremely privileged to lead our Academy. The GCSE results the summer I took over had taken a fall with an Ofsted inspection imminent. With the emphasis on exam outcomes I was fully aware of the challenges ahead. When Ofsted came, with their success criteria rooted in exam performance, they inevitably found ‘serious weaknesses’. They also reported confidently of the changes happening under the new leadership. Since then we have increased rigour and accountability, made many changes and continue to do so. Our subsequent monitoring visit reports bear testament to the progress we are making.

Our achievements are rising and compare favourably to other local schools. This summer we had a 10% record increase in A*/A grades. 27 students attained at least 5 or more A*/A grades each.

Spending most of my time in and around lessons in these first few weeks, it is heartening to see both students and staff responding to higher expectations of both standards and work.

However, whatever the politics and organisational structures, the most important priority is the education, progress and care of your children. As headteacher that is my first and only priority. Children come first. We promise to take care of your children, keep them safe and make learning fun.

Politics will come and go but throughout it all my aim, along with our staff, is to help lead our academy and community to be regarded as an ‘outstanding’ school – a school that not only provides the very best education for all its students – but one at the heart of the community it serves, leading regeneration and providing pride and self-esteem for all.

For our academy to be recognised as ‘outstanding’ is a personal mission. I have had two period of employment at this school totalling fourteen years. I live in the community, it’s my community and I am determined, with your help - to see it happen.

In many respects this is already an ‘outstanding’ academy.

Your children will have an array of opportunities at STWCC. Our staff, business and community partners provide a wide range of activities. To our future students we promise that whatever your current talents, or talents you have yet to discover, you can do them here. You can be part of our many sports and fitness clubs or successful teams. If you are musical or can sing, have aspirations to perform – you can join our school band or the most requested school choir in South Yorkshire. You can be part of our hugely successful drama and musical productions – rehearsals for our latest show Chicago are already under way. If you can dance or want to dance - you can do it here – many of our students have progressed to the top dance schools and gone on to be professional dancers. If you have ambition to be the best, we will support you. This summer our Olympic achievements amazed us all. We have 3 students in our academy right now who have a great opportunity to be Olympians – one in gymnastics, one an athlete and one in ice dancing – already champions and on the path to reaching the pinnacle in their sports.

Our Art gallery is a pleasure to view. Sir Thomas Wharton’s talented artists produce results second to none in Doncaster. Collectively our Arts provision has been recognised through the prestigious Arts Mark Gold Award.

School trips are wide and varied. Y7 have been signing up for their outdoor activities residential to Kingswood in March. Our young footballers and netballers are getting excited about their sports tour to Barcelona next year. But in addition to this in the last 2 years we have had, and will continue to have, trips to London, Germany, France, Disneyland Paris, New York, Venice, theatre trips and more.

You may be aware that South Yorkshire police offer free football coaching here on Tuesday nights, promoted by one of our more famous ambassadors – Howard Webb – the recently retired world cup final referee.

Our staff also offer many subject specific enrichment activities and go out of their way to provide extra help in passing exams.

We also specialise in Business and Enterprise, which means not only do we get exceptional results in these subjects, but also provide a variety of opportunities to engage in enterprising activities and business and work placements.

When you choose our academy for your children we expect you to choose us for 7 years. With compulsory education now to 18 we want your children with us right through into the sixth form. Most of our students want to stay with us. That’s hardly surprising because they love it here. They know that in addition to the nurturing, leadership opportunities and careers support provided, students have attained amazing individual performances in the last two years with the progress of both Y12 and Y13 last in the top 20% of all schools nationally.

We have a strong belief in the importance of smart appearance and the togetherness it creates. We and the students are proud of their appearance. We are strict on our rules and expect adherence to the uniform policy. I am sure you will respect this too.

To you the parents I say - there are few decisions you will make for your children as important as which school to send them to. I actively encourage you to look at other schools, so when you choose here, you know you have compared and chosen us for the right reasons. I am confident we will be your school of choice.

At Sir Thomas Wharton we have high expectations and traditional values.

We promise:
  • We will provide a safe, secure environment for your children
  • We will work them hard
  • We will teach them well and furnish them with the skills, knowledge and qualifications to compete in a rapidly changing world.

With you as parents:
  • We will create a culture of true partnership
  • We will keep you informed
  • We will listen to you

I trust that you enjoyed the Open Evening and will join us as a proud member of the Sir Thomas Wharton community - your school of choice!

We look forward to welcoming you!

Friday, July 1, 2016

Social Media – a necessary evil?

How much time do you spend on your phone or digital device scanning posts, tweeting, reading and responding to messages, chatting, researching and the like? Do you go in to meltdown when your phone dies because you forgot to charge it?

There are very few of us not on one form of social media or another. I certainly enjoy the ability to keep in touch with my friends who are scattered across the UK and indeed the world. I also find tweets and blogs by fellow educationalists really useful in my professional role. However, there is a dark, dangerous side to social media that I find utterly abhorrent.

Young people have always had developing, passionate, sometime naive views that they wish to share; others less confident may think things but not say them out loud. Either way social media gives them a platform to express views without censure and often about others.

The rapidly growing number of young people with emotional and mental health issues can be often attributed to their negative self-image and self-esteem caused by their perception of what others think of them. And the modern place to find that out is on social media. I despair at the number of young people, and adults for that matter, who feel the need to digitally change their photos to make themselves look ‘better.’

At Sir Thomas Wharton we constantly remind our students of the dangers of interacting on social media and the internet, particularly around safeguarding. However, safeguarding from potential adults with immoral intent, as in the latest case with youngsters on ‘Tinder’, is not the only problem facing our children on the internet. Bullying, hurtful, spiteful and slanderous comments is sadly rife on social media. It is the biggest problem that schools face in terms of protecting our children and dealing with the conflict and complexities around it. In the past, a fall out between children was usually within a small circle of youngsters. Teachers and pastoral staff could more easily contain the issue, identify the miscreants, put support in place and nip it in the buddy. Here at Sir Thomas Wharton our highly experienced staff are excellent at doing just that.

 The use of social media to cause distress for others is becoming increasingly difficult to manage. The fallout from unpleasantness on apps such as Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and more, no longer involves one or two children. Comments are seen instantly by all who are part of that friendship group or following; they are often added to and re-posted. Things that have allegedly happened or been said out of school go viral. Victims may come into school the next day knowing half the college community have seen it whilst staff are unaware. When it happens, we act quickly. Invariably it is complex, difficult to gather evidence and challenging to unpick. Often it is as a result of an incident socially out of college or a relationship fall out. Worse still we find some parents, rather than take the role of responsible adult, add to the abuse and threats.

More recently we have uncovered chatrooms where youngsters are involved in posting offensive and slanderous remarks about staff. Fortunately we can turn to the law for protection from cyberbullying and use the UK Safer Internet Centre and The Professional Online Safety Helpline. Through this route we can access online material and deal with the offenders and we do.

The first and foremost role of our staff is as educators. They work hard to remove barriers to learning, inspire children to be successful and teach them not just the academic curriculum but how to be happy and respectful citizens in society. Increasingly this is also about how to use the internet safely and constructively.

To the students reading this I reiterate what we have told you repeatedly; before you post anything about anyone else or respond to someone else, STOP and THINK 1) How would I feel if this was about me? 2) Would I be happy for my parent or grandparent to read this? If the answer is no – don’t do it. If someone posts something that causes you distress – tell and show someone – a parent or adult at school.

To parents reading this don’t bury your head in the sand. I know we would prefer not to pry in to our children’s private lives but find a way to respectfully check your child’s interactions. Watch for signs of distress, talk to your child about the dangers of social media. If necessary take them offline or unsubscribe from that App. The hardest of all is not to instantly take sides. Check the extent of your own child’s involvement in any unpleasantness. Our children are so easily drawn in to inappropriate behaviour on line by peer pressure or a desire to be part of the group and especially not to become a victim themselves. When you are concerned about your child, when you do become aware of anything, please let us know. By working together we can support our children, deal with the issues and help them to use social media appropriately. #stopbullyingonline

Friday, June 10, 2016

The Government Position on Holidays in Term Time

The Government have set out their position on pupil absence as a result of term time holidays. All Headteachers received this letter on 9 June 2016. We also understand, as I indicated in my blog ‘Attendance Matters’ on 27 May, that the Government intend to change the legislation to tighten up the regulation around holidays in term time.

The letter below is from Nick Gibb who is the Schools Minister.

Department for Education

High Court judgment on unauthorised pupil absence

Dear Colleague,

I am writing to set out the Government's position on unauthorised school absence and next steps following the judgment by the High Court on Friday 13 May regarding the case of the Isle of Wight Council v Jon Platt.

I am disappointed with the High Court ruling. I am clear that no child should miss school apart from in exceptional circumstances.

Over the past six years, schools and local authorities have taken the lead in reducing overall absence to make sure more children attend school every day. Overall absence in primary, secondary and special schools has been on a downward trend since 2010/11. In particular, since introducing the changes to the regulations in 2013 so that absence is only granted in exceptional circumstances, the rate of absence due to term time holidays has decreased by more than a third.

This is a significant achievement. As you will be aware there is clear evidence that absence from school is linked to lower levels of attainment. The Department's latest analysis published in March shows that every extra day missed was associated with lower attainment at age 11 and at age 16. In other words, every extra day of school that is missed can affect a pupil's chance of gaining good GCSE results.

I wish to advise you on two matters.

1. The High Court's judgment did not establish a hard and fast rule that a pupil's attendance above 90% is regarded as 'regular' attendance. Instead a decision will have to depend on the individual facts of each case. In the Isle of Wight case, for example, the magistrates thought it was a pertinent fact that the school itself had described 90% attendance as 'satisfactory'.

2. We understand that some parents who have already been given penalty notices and have paid the penalty are asking local authorities to withdraw the notices under regulation 8 of the Education (Penalty notices) (England) Regulations 2007 and refund their payments. However, the view of the Department is that the decision in the Isle of Wight case does not require local authorities to do this, and I would expect applications of this kind to be refused in the ordinary course of events. We will set out any additional steps necessary to secure children's attendance at school in due course.
In the meantime, it remains the case - as set out in the Education (Pupil Registration) (England) Regulations 2006 amended in 2013 - that headteachers continue to have the power to authorise leave of absence, but only in exceptional circumstances. While family holidays are enriching experiences, the school year is designed to give families the opportunity for these breaks without having to disrupt their children's education. It is for schools to consider the specific details and relevant context behind each request. Schools know their pupils best and are well placed to make those judgements.

I am clear that we need to continue reducing absence, building on the success schools and local authorities have already achieved, to support attainment and ensure all pupils fulfill their potential.
With best wishes.

Yours sincerely,

Nick Gibb MP

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Outcome of our Uniform Consultation

I would like to express a huge thank you to all our parents, students and staff who participated in the consultation on amendments to our uniform policy.

Views were canvassed and in many cases provided passionate responses both in favour and against some or all suggested changes.

Over 120 parents answered the online questionnaire and between 40 and 50 attended the Parent Voice uniform agenda meeting on Tuesday 17 May 2016. Written comments were taken in to account and parents who attended the meeting listened politely to all opinions and the college’s rationale behind the changes.

One view was very clear in that parents felt the college was right to pursue a stricter adherence to the expected uniform and that current fashions around tight trousers and short lycra skirts should be challenged and not accepted. Many parents felt that a minority of students wearing indiscreet fashion items made it more difficult for them to enforce the correct uniform with their own children. However, a majority also felt that whilst moving to one main supplier with logoed clothing would make it easier for both the college and parents to enforce, this financially penalised those parents who already ensured their children wore appropriate uniform within the policy.

Cost, despite negotiating a good deal with a reputable company, was the main issue for most. Both I and the Governing Body held concerns about the potential cost difference between trousers and skirts bought from large retailers and a school supplier.

It is important to recognise that many schools in our locality, especially those that have or intend to become part of a Multi Academy Trust (MAT) organisation, are now moving to a more rigid uniform policy where the main items can only be bought by the school supplier. A quick research on a variety of school websites will confirm this.

In the final decision we also needed to take into account the future of the college and any potential changes to governance. Like many schools, it is likely that Sir Thomas Wharton will join a MAT in the near future; this may bring about a change in uniform as a result. I would not want parents to go through two changes of uniform in a short period of time.

Having considered all the views and potential consequences we have decided not to go ahead with the proposed changes. Instead, we will be tweaking and clarifying our current uniform and with a solid endorsement from parents enforce our expectations and adherence to the policy. We will be communicating our expectations over this half term and would ask that parents are clear about what is and isn’t acceptable as you purchase new items both this term and especially for the new academic year in September. Our current expectations, including pictures of what is and isn't acceptable, can be found on the uniform section of the website. We will be retaining our current supplier for blazers and ties and the logo badge will remain the same.

Once again I thank you for your responses to the consultation and in your current and anticipated support with our uniform policy.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Attendance Matters!

Taking time out of the school year for family holidays has become the impassioned educational topic of the moment in the media. National and local press, as well as TV coverage, have all entered the debate following the Platt case that challenged the current legislation.

This has left many in a state of confusion as to what is and isn’t acceptable and who is actually responsible for decision making regarding fixed penalty notices.

Firstly it is important to state that any period of absence from school adversely affects a child’s academic learning and progress. Multiple research papers have proven this statistically.

The Government’s own DfE report, ‘The Link Between Absence and Attainment’ states that 44% of pupils with no absence in Key Stage 4 achieve the English Baccalaureate – the gold standard package of GCSE qualifications that includes English, Maths, Science, Geography or History and a Language –opening doors to their future. But this figure falls by a quarter to just 31.7% for pupils who miss just 14 days of lessons over the two years that pupils study for their GCSEs, which equates to around one week per year, and to 16.4% for those who miss up to 28 days.

I personally recognise the social, emotional and wider educational benefits that a family holiday can provide and that in exceptional circumstances, some families are just unable to take a holiday during the normal school holidays.

When I make a decision to not authorise a holiday request I follow the strict guidelines provided to schools to ensure consistency. These guidelines clearly define exceptional circumstances. They are:

  1. Where it is company/organisational policy for an employee to take leave at a specific time in the year and there is no opportunity for a family holiday in school holidays.  This must be evidenced by production of the policy document of the organisation.
  1. Service personnel returning from/scheduled to embark upon a tour of duty abroad.
I receive a range of many well-argued pleas from weddings to serious family member health issues and much more that I do sympathise with. We also discover situations where parents have blatantly taken holidays and have not been honest with us; others plan their holiday regardless and factor in the fine as part of their holiday budget. I also recognise that for many on low incomes it is the only affordable way to take a holiday at all. I therefore try to be fair and follow the expectations placed on the school by applying policy.

It is important to understand that schools do not apply the fixed penalty notices, nor do we receive the money from paid fines. We process a holiday request as an un-authorised absence and report on to the Local Authority who decide whether to pursue a prosecution.

Since the Platt case, which centres around what is acceptable within law as ‘regular attendance’, we have been advised by Doncaster’s Attendance and Pupil Welfare Services to continue to process holidays as ‘unauthorised’, communicate the details to them with the pupil’s attendance record and they will decide on an individual case by case basis whether to pursue a prosecution. Until we are informed differently, this is what we will do.

For those of you considering booking holidays for next year based on what you consider to be a previous and current good attendance record of your child, be aware you may fall foul of new legislation. The Government have now communicated an intention to rush through a change of law to tighten up the legislation around school holidays. This is almost certain to make it more difficult to take holidays in term time and remove the ability to challenge legally based on a definition of ‘regular attendance.’ The fact that the law has not yet changed will not be a ‘get out clause’ for those booking holidays in the next academic year.

We are very proud of the attendance records of our students and the support parents provide in ensuring good attendance. Our college’s attendance record is above both the Doncaster secondary school and national average and I intend we keep it that way.

I hope I have been able to clarify what is a confusing position.  As further guidance and legislation becomes clear I will keep you informed. However, I would implore parents to consider carefully decisions about holidays and the impact it can have on their child’s academic education.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Ofsted Continue to Recognise Our Progress

Sir Thomas Wharton Continues to Take Effective Action Towards
Removal From a Serious Weaknesses Category

On 4 May 2016, Her Majesty’s Inspector (HMI), Chris Smith paid his final monitoring visit to Sir Thomas Wharton Community College as a school in ‘Serious Weaknesses’. At each monitoring visit the HMI has to make one judgement – whether leaders and managers are taking effective action towards removal of the serious weaknesses designation. Our next Ofsted visit will be a full inspection when we and he expect us to be removed from an inadequate category.

The HMI’s letter reports positively about the progress we are making and identifies the growing strengths of the college. It also identifies areas for further development including a drive to support a minority of students to improve their own attitudes towards learning.

Raising aspirations and helping students to develop a personal positive mindset is a main thread of our next improvement plan. We will be seeking parental support in this area. By working in partnership we can help all our students to believe that they can be successful and achieve. My theme throughout this year has been ‘nothing is achieved without hard work’. Parents can do little things to help, such as by ensuring their child comes to school each day appropriately equipped with a pen, pencil and ruler and especially for Maths a calculator.

The Governors and I are pleased with the report and we look forward to the full inspection when we can demonstrate the improvements the college has made. Removal from category will be the first step in our journey and ambition to be an outstanding school.

I thank all of you for your continued support. A link to the inspector’s letter can be found on our website and will be available on the Ofsted website shortly.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Guilty Pleasures!

Every now and then we all need a ‘guilty pleasure’. I had three this week! Headteachers currently face some difficult decisions. Increased costs and a reduced income leaves many of us wrestling with balancing budgets. With the bulk of expenditure in education on staff salaries this inevitably means cuts to staffing that impact on the curriculum and support services. We are also managing the political agenda that is changing the educational landscape and structures of school leadership and governance. More than anything else we strive to drive up standards and help our students to make progress and attain the best outcomes they can. It’s challenging and permits little time to enjoy the many success stories that are happening all around you. However this week I did.

On Wednesday I attended a meeting at Campsmount Academy to hear the details of how our schools will have data presented under the new accountability measures of Progress 8. It was interesting and necessary. But not even close to being as enjoyable as the next two hours, outside in the sun, at the side of a Campsmount netball court watching our Year 7 girls produce heroic performances. Unbeaten all season they swept away all opponents to reach the final in the end of season tournament. In the final they met a well drilled and slick Trinity team and narrowly lost. By the end a hoarse Headteacher stood really proud. It was a pleasure (No1) to watch. On reflection it reinforced two things for me, firstly hard work and effort can take you a long way, but secondly you also need the dedication and passion of a good teacher with specialist coaching skills. Our female PE staff have that motivating impact on our young netballers. Whichever school you attend, if you have a teacher who is passionate about their subject or hobby, children will thrive and be successful on the back of it. Fortunately we have many inspirational staff at Sir Thomas Wharton.

Our new Librarian/Literacy Manager is passionate about reading. Literacy and reading, in particular, is the key to academic success. Spelling, punctuation and grammar (SPaG) are now not only important in English but make up a significant proportion of exam marks in a wide variety of subjects. Without a good vocabulary students’ chances of both understanding and answering examination questions is hindered. We are having a strong push on literacy across the college. Hundreds of our students have improved their reading ages over the past few months through engagement in the Accelerated Reader scheme. We have our first ‘Millionaire Words’ AR Readers. Others are involved in another vocabulary improvement software programme called ‘Bedrock Vocabulary’. They are all expected to carry a reading book as part of their daily equipment. At scheduled times we have ‘Drop Everything and Read’ (DEAR) sessions, which includes the staff. On Thursday I had the pleasure (no2) of drawing out and presenting the prize to our first weekly winner of ‘Caught Reading’. Roving staff reporters catch students reading at social times and every time a student is caught their name goes in to a prize draw.

On paying a visit to our vocational students at Hilltop Centre I found myself telling them about the Edlington Neighbourhood Plan Steering Group that I attend; in particular the plans to make the more rural areas of the Parish more attractive to visitors. This includes Martinwells Lake. What I didn’t realise was just what a contribution our students have made to reclaiming the Lake as a leisure facility over recent years. They insisted on showing me. And what a pleasure No3 it was! As we walked around the lake they pointed out with great pride the seating they had built, the steps they had unearthed and restored, the fishermen’s platforms they had helped build and the areas of undergrowth they had cleared. One student, who may not reach the academic threshold expected by the Government, told me how his car mechanic work placement has led to him being offered a full-time apprenticeship and that they were so pleased with him he was being sent on an MOT technician’s course. It won’t count in the league tables but he will have a trade for life.

So there we are – three guilty pleasures, spending time with our students and staff celebrating their varied achievements. It’s what makes the job of Headteacher the best job in the world!

Monday, April 4, 2016

Just who is the Easter Bunny?

Easter fell unusually early this year. The Easter Bunny was still sporting his winter fur as he delivered eggs across households. During the Easter holiday at one of our Y11 revision days, I had a curious discussion with some students as to the gender of the Easter Bunny – male or female? What do you think? We concluded Father Christmas is definitely a man, the tooth fairy we presumed female but the Easter Bunny?

Interestingly, some parents in the region faced the difficulty of managing three  different Easter holiday breaks due to their children attending different schools across South Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire or Free schools. All had a different fortnight break. As we look to the future and more and more schools become academies under government policy, this issue will become an increasing problem for parents as academy groups use their freedoms to choose their own holiday patterns.

It was gratifying and hugely encouraging to see so many of our Y11 and 6th Form students being supported with extra lessons during the Easter weeks. Many more are attending after-college sessions too. The advantage of Easter being early for us is that we now have an eight weeks run to prepare our students for the forthcoming examinations. You are likely to have seen the local publicity for the Mayor’s initiative called ‘Move On, Move Up’.Details for this can be found on our website and all Y11 students should have received a flyer about this through the post from the Local Authority. Additional revision and support sessions are being put on at a weekend, free of charge, at various leisure facilities across Doncaster. Attendees will receive a free leisure pass to various facilities across Doncaster. In the words of a large banking organisation – ‘get a little extra help!’

I would encourage parents to be as supportive as possible during this examination season. Every child is different, some need strong guidance and encouragement, others need help not to become over-stressed and anxious. You will know your own child, but if you need support please contact our pastoral teams.

Rightly or wrongly, politics plays a big part in Education. The latest Act means yet more significant change. Despite what Mr Osborne might say funding is reducing. All schools will become Academies with most in Multi-Academy Trusts (MATs) before the end of this Parliament.We of course are already an Academy. However the Governing Body are exploring our options as to which MAT we will join. At the heart of this is collaboration and school to school support that leads to improved outcomes and financial savings. Both of these latter points are high on our and other schools’ agendas. As organisational relationships are firmed up we will keep you informed.

Unfortunately the Easter Bunny has delivered fewer eggs this year and the Tooth Fairy has cut the amount she leaves under the pillow, but I will not allow this to de-stabalise our journey of improvement. We look forward to proving to Ofsted and anyone else, that Sir Thomas Wharton is a good and improving school.

I thank you for your continued support.