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Tuesday 2 November 2010

So term two, as we now call the period after the October break formerly known as ‘half term’, began yesterday.  It was something of a boost to get up in the morning for school in daylight, after the clocks went back on Sunday morning.  I know it won’t last long, and I know that the evenings will soon be very dark, but it is a small boost while it lasts.  It was good to see the students back as well, ready for the new term ahead.

We kicked off the term with a new venture for year 7 students.  We have noticed that, as a year group, year 7 sing in assemblies (and at Founders’ Day) particularly well.  Inspired by the Gareth Malone choir programmes on BBC television, when Gareth coaches groups of people with no previous formal training in singing to put on amazing performances, we have launched a large year 7 choir (at the moment it’s actually everybody!).  There are huge benefits in terms of self esteem, corporate identity and belonging to be gained from choral singing, and we had an introduction yesterday morning in the form of a one hour session.  It went well, and when we played back to students a recording of what they had managed to produce in one hour, many were visibly impressed – with themselves!  It will be interesting to see how this project develops.

As I said to staff colleagues at our Monday morning briefing yesterday, one of the advantages of the school year routine is that every new term gives the opportunity to adjust our practice and get things right which we had perhaps let slip the previous term, or just things we want to try a different approach on.  This applies to students as well as to us staff.  We are going to be focussing on some aspects of school uniform at whole school level this term to try to improve further the appearance and sense of pride Bennett students take in their school, and I know that parents will want to support us on this.

Early November marks the season of remembrance, and we are educating and informing students about this tradition in school, as well as selling poppies.  On 11th November itself we will mark the traditional armistice with two minutes’ silence.  It is interesting how this tradition has been revived in recent years – perhaps as a consequence of the high casualty rates being suffered in Afghanistan and previously Iraq, and partly perhaps coinciding with the death of the last survivors of the First World War.  Whatever the reason, we think it is important that the school is part of the national remembrance and reflection at this time.

Every Monday evening the school’s leadership team meets to consider issues to do with both the running and future direction of the school.  Last night’s meeting included consideration and debate on a paper about the usefulness of brain science for education.  Until relatively recently, the human brain was largely a mystery – we had only hazy ideas about how it functioned and developed.  Now, however, there are rapid advances is this branch of science, and as educators it is important that we are aware of the relevance of the work for our own practice.  There are many points of interest, including better understanding of what dyslexia really is, how different brain functions develop at different rates, accounting for some typical characteristics of teenagers, how thinking ability is not predetermined at the age of 10, as previously thought by some, but continues to develop right into the teenage years, and how brain function is affected by external factors, including proper diet (especially skipping breakfast) and exercise.  We are going to take these discussions further in the school with a view to raising awareness and improving practice in the light of research.

I happened to join a fascinating discussion with some sixth form students just before the break about the recent high court ruling on ‘pre-nuptual agreements’.  I was heartened to hear that they had been able to see the issue from the Christian perspective: if marriage was intended to be for life, and involve unconditional self-giving, then a prenuptual agreement had no place.  Its very existence, however convenient and practical it might seem, involves compromising on these principles of Christian marriage.  It is perhaps a mark of our ever more secular society that the judges supported the validity of the ‘pre-nup’ in question almost unanimously.  I was really encouraged, in the face of this, that there are young people at this school who hold to something different.