Another busy week draws to a close and I realise we are already 5 weeks in to this 8 week half term. The weather this week has made the school seem very autumnal and dark, and this morning for the first time this year the drive was covered with leaves after the strong winds last night.
This week saw the last of our three open evenings, at which we had record attendance. We have occasionally wondered in the past whether it is necessary to have three open evenings, as some schools have only one or two open events, but any thought of reducing the number has gone after this year, when on each occasion the school hall was completely full, and on two evenings with significant numbers standing too. I felt a great sense of pride in the way in which the school presented itself on those three evenings, with some of our new and young teachers making a particularly strong contribution. A further source of pride is of course the students, both the younger ones who helped show visitors around, and also older ones who help in other ways, including the head students who speak as part of the presentation about their own experiences of the school. They did a super job this year and were warmly received. Overall, we had many pieces of positive feedback about the open evenings, and would want to extend our thanks to everyone who participated either from the school side or as a visitor.
I have been busy during the week with some other important activities as well. Yesterday, Thursday, I attended a meeting looking at the operation of the system for allocating students to universities using A Level grades, and was able not only to contribute to this discussion, largely involving UCAS and the agency responsible for university funding, some perspectives from students, parents and schools about the way the system works. I gained a much more detailed understanding as well of the operation of the system and ways in which students can benefit from some of the recent changes to the way it operates, to maximise their chances of getting to the best universities. This will all be shared with students as this year’s university admission round unfolds.
Today I was invited to give a short presentation to a group of other school leaders on gaining outstanding for Ofsted. I have to say that sitting in the room listening to the speaker before me, and looking at the intensely concentrating faces in the room, I was reminded what it feels like to be awaiting an Ofsted inspection! I had begun to forget. It was not only useful hopefully for the audience to hear both tips in preparing for inspection and also insights into school improvement over the longer term, but also really useful for us, in preparing the talk, to undertake a review of where the school is now in its journey of improvement.
I have not said much for some time about examination remarks. We have had a substantial number of remarks done this year and a reasonably good success rate with them. Most, though not quite all, are back in now and those affected have been told. We are still waiting for some though, including a large section of RE GCSE, where there were very significant and widespread errors in marking, such that the Board agreed to remark a whole component right across the year group. Once we get that in we will tell anyone who grade changes as a result. It remains a concern that there are quite so many mistakes in exam papers, and it really is about time that this system was thoroughly overhauled.
As part of our plan to improve the provision of sports coaching at the school we have over the past couple of weeks recruited both a netball and a rugby coach. We are now planning opportunities for boys and girls in year 7 to receive more intensive coaching in these sports and hope to be able to develop squads, as the students move up through the year groups, who can compete at top level.
Finally, this week we celebrated our annual Harvest Festival. All students had special assemblies or services prepared and led by older students where they were invited to both give thanks for the gifts we all enjoy and to be mindful of the needs of others who are less fortunate. We collected a vast number of tins and packets of food to go towards supporting the genuinely needy people of this town during the winter, and these will be dispensed in the form of food parcels through local churches as they are needed. We also collected donations to continue our support of children in challenging parts of the world through the charity World Vision. Many, many thanks to students (and parents!) who have helped make all this possible.
Some readers may have heard of Mike Baker, the BBC Education journalist who died last week after suffering from cancer. He kept a moving blog during his illness, and I came across the final post which his widow put up just after he died. It makes poignant reading: http://www.mikebakereducation.co.uk/beatingcancer/91/chrissy-here