This week has been a very hectic one in the world of education and at Bennett specifically. Alongside the announcements on the changes to GCSEs, which I have commented on separately, we had news headlines, yesterday, about the spending of the Pupil Premium. The Pupil Premium is a payment which is given to schools in proportion to the number of students in the school entitled to Free School Meals at the point when the survey is carried out. It works out at £600 per pupil. Across the country, this represents a large chunk of money, and because the government is concerned that students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds are not progressing fast enough in some schools, they asked Ofsted to find out what schools were spending the money on.
There are several points I would make about it. Firstly, there is no such thing as a teaching method which is good for children on Free School Meals and not good for everyone else. So every improvement in teaching, some of which cost money, like smaller classes, and some of which don’t, can be of benefit to all students.
So thinking about how to spend the Pupil Premium so that children from disadvantaged background benefit, it is quite hard to imagine doing something that doesn’t improve the general standard of teaching, learning and achievement in schools. It is not an attractive option to have special classes for children on Free School Meals, for example – that would single them out, be potentially embarrassing, and unfair on other children who might have similar learning needs.
That is why the money is not ‘ring fenced’ – in other words, it is for schools to spend on general improvements to the quality of what they do. Despite the concern about how it is being spent, it is really important that schools with large numbers of children on Free School Meals continue to get enhanced funding, and it is equally important that schools are able to spend the money on general improvements which will be good for everyone, not only for Free School Meals children.
At Bennett, we have about 40 children on FSM at any given time, right across all year groups. This means we get about £24,000 extra funding each year, which is enough to pay for one teacher for 2-3 days per week. We do not single children out, but ensure that this relatively modest sum of money is spent ensuring that there is additional teaching for all who need it educationally. Ofsted were very happy with this when we discussed it with them in June.
On Tuesday we had our regular fire drill, to practise evacuating the school building should there ever be a genuine emergency. As always, out students’ behaviour during this evacuation was impeccable. A number of new teachers commented to me that they have never seen such an orderly and quiet exit in any other school. Well done, and thank you, to all our students for making such a good impression.
A couple of posts ago I put up some feedback from the project leader on the Bennett Ghana expedition this summer. There was a lot of positive feedback on this. I have recently been passed a diary entry written by a student who visited Mpwapwa, Tanzania, the diocese partnered with the Diocese of Rochester, and thought it might be interesting to reproduce part of it below. It is a moving and very personal account, and fantastic to see that a Bennett education offers these kinds of opportunities which are life-changing and educational in the deepest and truest sense.
“It’s been quite a while since I last wrote in here. Last time I did, I was sitting in my hotel room in Mpwapwa, curled up on one of those cushy chairs with a reading light trying not to wake my friend up up…so much has changed!
Well, Tanzania was amazing. So, so amazing that I didn’t want to leave and I really want to go back – but it would have to be with my best friends like before. They made it so special and I miss them all so much.
One friend with her kind words and surprising assertiveness; another with her craziness and singing; another’s banter and joking and friendly manner; Mrs Santaana’s maternal reassurance, her quiet comfort and great sense of humour; Mr Tyson’s formal, well spoken, Old-English-Gentlemanly mannerisms; … wacky singing, crazy jokes, steadfastness and the fact that we finally got here after all that doubt. I miss them all so much – we were all such a great family when we were out there. We were thrown in the deep end – into a place with fish heads, Swahili, crazy washing ladies, stinging insects and scorpions and all its challenges. I miss the adventure, not knowing what would happen each day and not knowing what I would wake up to.
I miss closing my eyes on the Jeep as we were thrown around, opening the window and feeling the warm, dusty African air whip though my hair and knot it up completely. I miss the red sand and the beautiful mountains. I miss our evenings, all gathered upstairs, all curled up together laughing and crying. I miss going into the guys’ room to play Trivial Pursuit and sing more Disney songs. I miss meeting so any beautiful and inspirational people, who challenged me beyond imagining. I miss the smell of sawdust, glue and elephant poo, of not knowing what people were saying and getting completely the wrong message…. I miss having to poor FREEZING cold buckets of water over my head and having freezing showers that made my skin tingle and my blood zing. I miss planning lessons in the evening, reading ‘Journey to Jo’burg’ three times in a row and not understanding physics or geography. I miss the sound of the children’s laughter at the nursery as we blew bubbles, took pictures and threw the parachute into the air again and again. I miss walking to Monica’s and the great unveiling of what we would have for our meal that day – the excitement, the joy and the horror. I miss the laughter at the dinner table when we discussed films and TV and scary stories and trying to explain Disney films to Donald and struggling to keep a straight face as he stared at us blankly. I miss Christoph and Junior and Gloria and visiting the cathedral and watching our first African sunset. I miss running around in the BOILING HOT sun and bright red sand, twisting my ankle, getting filthy and not understanding how to play tag rugby – and then the horror of finding out I had to teach it the next day.
I miss teaching those kids, who had never played sport properly before how to throw the rugby ball and the satisfaction of seeing them manage a whole game! I miss teaching music, standing up the front with Maisy and wishing that I could sing even half as well as her. I miss laughing as we sang the same line ten times in a row so the girls in form one could get the pitch right. I miss planning our music in the evenings, all sitting in a circle rapping, beat-boxing and having the hotel staff gather round to watch and the teachers laugh. I miss doing speeches and feeling my knees shake with fear – feeling like an insignificant nobody when I addressed such important people. I miss walking around Queen Esther and seeing how lucky I am – yet they have so little and are so much happier. I miss the students that we made such strong friendships with and feeling happy that we had made a difference. I miss standing in front of the whole school – students and teachers – and thanking them for everything they did, how well they responded and worked and how much I would miss them. I miss sitting among the students and watching them learn and understand and enjoy learning and loving the smiles and laughter as I tried out my terrible Swahili. I miss being frustrated because I had used every adjective, explanation, picture, dictionary reference and sign language to get across an idea, but still no-one understands me – that I had to give up knowing that I had bigger battles. I miss Gloria addressing Mr Tyson so formally every time she spoke to him and giggling as he grimaced and tried to smile.
I miss walking in the pitch black with the weak torchlight through the sand to Monica’s and looking up to see the most beautiful sky full of stars and a moon that looked so different and just being awestruck at its beauty. I miss the deep red of the African sunset and how quickly the sun disappeared behind the mountains in an array of colour, shooting streaks of fire across the sky. I miss jumping when we opened our door in Mikumi to find a HUGE lizard shoot up the wall and a frog sitting in the middle of the corridor. I miss doing the excessive bug-searches before we wrapped up in our mosquito nets and sleeping bag liners. I miss getting up super early and having to shove whatever on to get ready for a new day. I miss going on Safari and seeing so many beautiful animals in such a stunning landscape. I miss the freedom of standing on my seat with the roof up, the sun on my face and breathing in the fresh, crisp air, tinged with the smell of smoke from the grass-fires. I miss being thrown around in the Jeep and being eaten alive by horseflies because apparently I was wearing the same colours as the flags they use to attract and poison them.
I miss putting on insect repellent just when I’d got clean and using hand-gel excessively before we ate. I miss opening the door to a man in full tribal gear carrying a spear and a lantern with teeth around his neck – I miss tottering around on the cobbled paths in ridiculously high heels because I wanted to look my best so that I’d feel worthy of such an amazing country and people. I miss the sheer delight of actual fruit and vegetables, juice and salad and feeling the unclean feeling just disappear as I felt the vitamins sink into my body. I miss the feeling of pure delight, happiness and excitement when we pulled up to that beautiful hotel and knowing that I would have my own double bed and shower and TV and feeling so privileged and lucky. I miss feeling so tired and desperate to sleep in the Jeep as we travelled from place to place. I miss sticking my hand out of the window and taking ‘arty photos’ that actually looked rubbish when I got home.
I miss the feeling of giving all I could to people who desperately needed what we had and feeling that warm feeling inside because I had made a positive difference that day. I miss feeling so free…on top of the world and feeling like I could do anything I wanted because I had achieved so much.
I miss the build up and the excitement.
But I don’t miss the fact that it’s all over.
I just want to do it all over again.”