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.