I apologise to regular readers who will have noted that I have been silent for some while on this blog. This is not for want of activity at school or beyond, nor indeed for lack of things to say, but simply down to general busy-ness and, yes, tiredness at this end of a long term.
End of term activities have been going very well at school. Last week we had two superb Christmas concerts, involving huge numbers of students and performing groups, including the superlative year 7 Boys’ Choir, Chamber Choir, Big Band, Strings Group, Massed Year 8 Choirs, and a very lively samba group, alongside a number of stunning soloists. The musical culture we set out to create in the school two years ago is now really beginning to reap dividends, with levels of interest and participation rising strongly on almost every front.
Tonight we have our annual Carol Service at St John’s Church in Tunbridge Wells, with strong participation from the Massed Year 7 Choir, as well as the Boys’ Choir and soloists. I take my hat off to music staff who, just as the rest of us are winding down towards the end of term, are required to pull out the most energetic and demanding performances of the term.
Having said that, the length of this term is certainly visible amongst students, some of whom are really very tired now. I think this is particularly the case with year 7 and 8 students, especially those who have to get up very early for long journeys to school. Dark mornings are hard for everyone, but I imagine that for 11 and
12 year olds they are particularly draining.
Earlier this week I met with a committee of governors to look at the applications for admission to the school in September 2013. We spent a whole morning reading all the applications and undertaking the required rank ordering exercise. It is on the one hand very heartening to see yet more parents wanting a place at the school for their children in September, with application numbers up again on last year. On the other hand though this inevitably means that some may be disappointed in March, although our governors are very committed to making as many places as possible available here to those who want them.
At national level there have been some interesting developments. Most recently, yesterday saw the publication of GCSE English resit results. This extra resit opportunity, offered free of charge in November by the examination boards in response to the controversy over the shifting of the grade boundaries in the summer GCSE English exam, has produced a significant additional number of C grades, with over a third of those who took it getting their all-important C grade. These proportions were reflected in our own results. I noted today that the grade boundaries for the November sitting have been left identical to the disputed summer ones. Interesting.
Some ‘gluttons for punishment’ may have followed the court case brought by an alliance of associations and individuals against the examination boards and Ofqual over the English GCSE debacle. The judicial review is now complete and the judge will publish his verdict in January. Whichever way it goes (and I think the likelihood of an overturning of the results is now pretty unlikely) I think it was important to have taken the issue this far if only to raise awareness of the problems surrounding it and the sense of confusion and unfairness so many felt.
A couple of weeks ago there was a lot of controversy over Michael Gove’s proposal to ‘introduce performance related pay’ for teachers. There were immediately some quite critical reactions to this from some quarters. However, what much of the media reporting neglected to say was that many teachers are already on performance related pay schemes. More experienced teachers (after about 5-6 years) are paid on an ‘upper pay spine’ – access to this and progression on it are already performance related. Even on the so-called ‘main scale’ which covers the first 5-6 years of a teacher’s career there is the opportunity for people to be advanced more rapidly or indeed held back, should their performance warrant it. Teachers who are members of a school’s leadership group are paid on a ‘leadership spine’ – also already performance related. Moreover, many teachers seek promotion to posts carrying additional responsibility, and are required as part of the application process to demonstrate their effectiveness as teachers. So an extension of this principle to all or most teachers is not quite, perhaps, as big a step as one might initially think. Some argue against it because of the risk it could break down the collegiality and cohesion of a teaching staff. Certainly, capriciously or inconsistently implemented, this could happen. However, good school leaders and governing bodies will hopefully recognise the importance of a cohesive staff and balance that alongside the importance of recognising genuinely outstanding teaching and exceptional contribution to school life, deploying the provisions of whatever new pay structure emerges with fairness and care.
Yesterday after school I spend an hour and a half with a group of RE and philosophy A Level students listening to presentations and panel questions on two exceptionally challenging articles they had been given beforehand . The event was arranged, as it is every year, by the RE and philosophy team, to provide an opportunity for aspirational students to flex their intellect to a high level. Indeed, the year 13 presentation was easily at degree level, as the younger members of the staff team were able to assure us of, being a little closer to their student days than some of us. The students’ fluency and clarity about very challenging and complex ideas was admirable. Well done to all of them.
Earlier this week we had a new-look event for former year 13 students and their guests at which A Level certificates and prizes were presented. We did this in the style of a reception and reunion, sitting around small tables informally with drinks and nibbles. It seemed to work well, and we had good feedback. Everyone seemed to like the less formal and more light-hearted and festive feel. Tomorrow morning, Friday, we will be welcoming the MP for Tunbridge Wells to school to present year 12 students with their GCSE certificates and prizes. Parents have been invited to this and although it is in the morning (this was the only time we could fix for Greg Clark to come in) a good number of parents are coming as well.
Finally, we have had a number of food-related events at school recently. Today I and a group of colleagues judged a year 11 Christmas cake ‘bake off’ – I will get a picture of the winning entry up on the website tomorrow. Great fun, and impressive results, as also with the Great European Bake Off organised by the modern languages team and featuring festive cakes and bakes form around Europe.
May I take this opportunity to thank all parents and readers of this blog for their support during this term. We all wish all Bennett families and friends a very happy and peaceful Christmas.