This week, last week and next week at Bennett have a very international flavour. Last Friday we had a visit from 37 Norwegian teachers and their head from a secondary school in southern Norway, who were on a teacher development week in the UK. I had got to know their head at a conference a couple of years ago and offered an open invitation to visit us. They were due to come last year on one of the worst snow days and, to their amusement and our frustration, had to cancel. This year we were luckier with the weather however and the Norwegians arrived at four minutes to 11, just as we were about to observe the Remembrance Day silence. After a hurried explanation of what was about to occur, they were ushered into the Main Hall. During the day they observed lessons, which impressed them enormously, one Norwegian RE teacher commenting that the philosophy we were doing with 15 year olds here was more like the first year of university in Norway. Open discussion in the afternoon was around university costs, school inspection, league tables and Church-run schools (none of which exist in Norway). Many sixth form students took part in the afternoon discussions, and spoke with confidence and interest about these and other topics.
This week has seen the Bennett leg of the on-going Comenius project we initiated three years ago and have been involved in since. Groups of students and staff have been visiting the 6 participating countries, Sweden, Finland, Germany, Italy, Holland and the UK successively, all paid for by an EU Comenius grant, to take part in projects on different topics. Ours, appropriately for our Church school ethos, is on ethics, and the students from across Europe have been preparing presentations during the week which they are going to deliver at the House of Commons tomorrow in the presence of the Tunbridge Wells MP, Greg Clark, who will be judging them. They have worked on a range of ethical issues, but have corporately voted to present on euthanasia. We wish them well.
Next week – moving beyond Europe – we have a group of 15 Chinese head teachers visiting the school – they will be hearing about our education system from us and undertaking some short lesson observations.
Alongside the raw examination results which are published about every school every year there are two other main statistical analyses which set these results in context. The first of these, known as the Learner Achievement Tracker, or LAT, appeared last week. We knew Bennett A Level results were good in 2011, even very good, but we had not understood fully that Bennett students’ progress in the sixth form, so in other words the A Level results compared with the same students’ GCSE results, was quite as high as the LAT shows it to be. Taken as a whole, Bennett students taking A Levels in 2011 are inside the top 6% nationally for making progress – and that is on top of their already very good GCSE outcomes. I am going to be talking a little more about this at tonight’s Sixth Form Open Evening, and the presentation with the graphs will be on the website shortly afterwards. When we ‘drill down’ into the data in more depth, almost every subject is positive, many if not most extremely so; the very small number which are not have already been addressed, generally with a complete change of staffing. We are delighted to have this reliable feedback on our students’ performance in 2011 and really proud of what has been achieved.
Many parents and others will have been aware of the article the Prime Minister wrote in the daily Telegraph about education this week – http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/8887773/We-shall-shame-schools-that-muddle-through.html . The article focuses on schools in the ‘leafy suburbs and shire towns’ which underperform and in the PM’s words ‘muddle through’. While many may find the language brutal, if not offensive to hard working schools or teachers, and the blogosphere and the ‘tweeting’ community are both full of negative comment, all I will say is that Bennett emphatically is nowhere near what the PM describes. He writes: “It is not good enough for teachers in shire counties to be satisfied with half of children getting 5 good GCSEs…” – well, at Bennett we get 96%. And further: “schools must help children go further than anyone ever thought they could” – exactly almost to the word what we say to students especially in the sixth form every year. And further: “Why should we put up with a school … where pupils and staff count down the hours to the end of term without ever asking why B grades can’t be turned into As?’ – our relentless targeting of ever higher performance for students and from teachers here, which sometimes people find tough, ensures that we constantly push for more and better from students. That is how we have our rising performance trend and the fantastic A Level outcomes I describe above. But I would also say that there are other schools like Bennett around the country and the danger with someone in the PM’s position writing in this way is that the public will begin to absorb the message that most state schools are like the depressing image painted. Most are not, and Bennett certainly is not.