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Blog - Back to school

Sunday 5 September 2010

Six weeks can go very fast or very slowly, depending on who you are and what you are doing.  I know lots of parents, and quite a few students (despite what they might actually say!) will be relieved the long summer break is over and normal routine is resumed.  For many of us who work at school the not-quite-six-week break will have flown past.  The first three weeks of the summer holiday are very quiet – it’s the time when I and many of my senior colleagues take their break, because from mid August onwards we are working at least part time on exam results and all the issues which come with them.  Secretly, I actually quite look forward to term starting.  Partly this is because of the freshness and enthusiasm which goes with the start of term, and partly it’s because I need a structure and rhythm in my daily life.

I was elated with our results this year, especially the really big jump in all areas of GCSE results, and the really strong performance in so many areas at A Level.  Last school year felt quite hard at times – we were due an Ofsted inspection which could have come at any moment, and so we were operating somewhat on the edge of our seats all year.  We had a really strong record over the previous 3 years, but I knew there was still room for improvement in some subjects.  It is a huge vindication of what we have done, and how hard so many of our staff have worked, to get these fantastic results this year. 

Our start of term meetings, which we hold as a staff on the day before the year 7s come in, were bitter-sweet.  We had the sad news about Michael Ward over the summer, and really needed to bring our thoughts and sadness together in some formal way on the first day.  I spoke about Michael during our service, and hope I captured the feeling of the staff, and gave them something of a way forward in their thoughts.  It’s one of those things a head has to do from time to time which it’s really important to get right.  It’s also one of those things no amount of ‘headteacher training’ can prepare you for. 

We did also rejoice at our corporate success in results, and there was barely a groan (which I had anticipated!) when I spoke of the need to guard against complacency as a school and still work with even greater vigour to address the now small number of areas which are not at the level of the majority and the best.  It is hugely motivating to work in a school which is demonstrably moving from success to greater success.

(I apologise to blog readers if this sounds a bit like a Bennett publicity leaflet – I try not to do this, but I hope you will indulge me on this occasion!)

It was good to catch up with people who had been involved in trips over the summer – the Borneo expeditions went well, as did the large group which did their Silver Duke of Edinburgh expedition over the August bank holiday.  Opportunities like these are the difference between a school which is just an exams factory and a school which really invests in young people as people.  Learning to build confidence, teamwork, sustaining positive relationships, courage – more lasting ‘virtues’ even than GCSE grades!

My two weeks in Turkey seem a long time ago now, coming as they did right at the start of the holiday.  I had not been to Istanbul for 24 years, and when I last went there, there were still donkeys in the streets and the backpackers’ accommodation I used back then was pretty smelly and basic.  It’s a different city now – certainly not cheap any more, and very modern and efficient.  It was wonderful to see both the remains of Christian Constantinople in the form of recently uncovered church frescoes and mosaics, and also fantastic to see some of the crowning splendours of Islamic architecture and art, especially some of the Iznik tile work, which I was very impressed by.  I spent the ten days I was then in Kas, basically a beach resort, reading volumes 2 and 3 of the Larsson Millennium trilogy.  Can someone tell me what it is about Sweden which has produced such extraordinary crime and conspiracy literature, often so bleak and violent?  The films (one and two, that is) are not bad but get nowhere near to doing the books justice. 

Anyway, enough of all that – it’s back to school in earnest from Monday, the first full ‘normal’ week.  Wish us well!