I can hardly believe that we are already three weeks into this new spring term. It has been a very busy period at school with special events of some description happening almost every day. On top of this we have been managing the usual outbreaks of winter colds and flu and the logistical problems that this can sometimes cause. We are fast approaching the point in February when we are half way through the school year – for students and teachers preparing for examinations a thought which certainly focuses the mind!
As ever, education never ceases to be in the news and the public eye. Since Christmas we have had the announcements about changes to the inspection process, including the possibility of ‘no notice’ inspections from next September. We have had coverage of the new appraisal framework for teachers, speeding up, notionally, the process for dealing with underperformance. And most recently we have had the planned change from ‘satisfactory’ to ‘required improvement’ for schools graded 3 on the 1 to 4 scale used by Ofsted. This latter change to my mind certainly makes sense, as over recent years grade 3 has increasingly been seen as a less than adequate level of performance either for schools as a whole or for individual lessons. It has been something of an affront to the English language that we have continued to call something which is not satisfactory ‘satisfactory’, and the new designation makes it much clearer what is actually meant by a grade 3.
Although many of the changes being put in place by the current government and by Ofsted are sensible and justifiable, there is a real concern in the minds of many who work in the education professions that the media coverage of them is constantly reinforcing the idea that state education is somehow generally inadequate. It is easy to forget that 93% of students in England attend publicly funded schools – the system educates the vast majority of our young people. Of course, no large system is perfect in every respect, but to create the impression that there is no appetite for improvement, or, indeed, that the majority of lessons or teachers are less than adequate, which is what one could easily conclude from listening to the media, is quite false. I know from observing lessons here at Bennett, and also in other schools, as I was earlier this week to assist a colleague headteacher, that there is a huge proportion of utterly committed and gifted teachers who work tirelessly to do the best they possibly can. I also know that where teachers do need assistance in improving, the overwhelming majority are open to advice and guidance and want to use every resource available to address issues which have been pointed out to them. It would be wonderful to get some good news stories into the media about successful and ambitious teachers, and motivated and engaged young people. It would be easy to find them.
An interesting and unusual thing happened this week. A former student, who left some ten years ago, so is now in his late 20s, turned up at the school reception with a monetary donation. He said he wanted to make a contribution to school funds, because, when he was a student here all those years ago, he had stolen something from the school. He said he was never caught, but it had often weighed on his mind since, and he felt he would not be at peace unless he made amends in some form. This was quite touching – I remember the boy concerned from one of my earlier roles at the school. It supports the view that some aspects of education, whether in the home or at school, are very much ‘slow burn’ – one cannot always expect to see the results immediately, but what we are doing is planting seeds which might take time to mature. Too often we see education as a process which can be instantly assessed and evaluated – the most important lessons take a long time to mature, and the results sometimes do not become apparent until much later in life.
Our school chaplain, Rachael Knapp, has just returned from the Rochester Diocesan pilgrimage to the Holy Land. It was a wonderful opportunity for retreat and renewal for her. Being a school chaplain is a varied and demanding role, running assemblies, planning and leading other worship, counselling students, supporting staff and more. We are extremely fortunate to have Revd Rachael working with us, and are certain that her experiences over the past week will be shared with us over the weeks ahead.