Half term here at last! If feels like a long eight and a half weeks since the start of September, and even longer for those who have been ‘on duty’ since exam results started coming in in mid August. We had our annual Founders’ Day on Friday 22nd October, and the guest celebrant this year was John Hall, the Dean of Westminster – recently seen on TV in the Abbey hosting the Pope’s visit there. He had big shoes to step into, because last year’s Founders’ Day guest was the Archbishop of Canterbury. Nonetheless it was a great day, and the Dean was very positive indeed about the School, its achievements and the students he met.
Many of us in schools were watching with bated breath the spending review announcements from the Chancellor last week. My first reaction was one of some relief – a 0.1% rise in real terms on education spending may not seem like much of an increase, but it was better than a cut. However, over the weekend the news emerged – somewhat in dribs and drabs, it has to be said – that in fact the key Liberal Democrat contribution to education policy, the pupil premium (extra money for schools educating deprived students, allocated on a pupil by pupil basis) would be allocated by reducing funding for other schools and students. This is contrary to what was promised earlier – namely that the pupil premium, which I would support in principle, would be additional expenditure as far as the education budget is concerned. This does not bode well for areas – like West Kent – where there are relatively low levels of deprivation in comparison with inner city areas. The extent of reduction in education spending will depend on how many students the government decides ought to get the pupil premium – all those on free school meals, or a smaller, more deprived, proportion of those. We shall see …
Many people who don’t work in schools tend to think that we close down for the holidays. Nothing could be further from the truth. As I sit at my desk this Monday lunchtime – with icy cold hands, as we have turned the heating down to save money – I have been aware of about 20 people working in the school. ICT facilities are being upgraded, cleaning is taking place, office staff are at work, and caretakers are repairing and decorating. Our Duke of Edinburgh staff are away in Wales with the large group of Gold expeditioners – chilly nights to be camping on a Welsh hillside, but good for team building!
One of the nice things about the school holidays, even for those who do work through all or part of them, is that we can work a bit more flexibly than the usual unbending school timetable demands. I am off up to London later this afternoon to visit the exhibition of Gauguin paintings at the Tate Modern. And a group of colleagues has just told me that they are meeting for lunch shortly to remember this day last year when one of our site team sadly died after a long battle with cancer.
The closing date for secondary school applications falls at the end of this week, Sunday 31st. This year we have had record numbers of parents and children visiting the school, both at open evenings earlier on and in recent weeks on tours of the school during the day. There is certainly no shortage of parents who want to send their children to Bennett, and, interestingly, despite the pressures of financing school transport, there are more than ever who live at some distance from the school, including well over the border in East Sussex. I have recently myself visited a number of our partner Church of England Aided primary schools both in Kent and East Sussex – always a wonderfully uplifting experience: the brightness, care and positivity of a good primary school is something you can literally sense and it is truly infectious. Our challenge is to build on this when students move to secondary school.
I hope all readers have a restful and recuperative half term week.