There is seemingly no let up to the relentless political controversies covered in the media on schools and education. The latest are obviously the proposals covered in the education ‘White Paper’ the Government published before Easter on moving the schools system over completely to an academies system by 2022, but this is the last in a long line of issues which have hit the headlines.
The EBacc (English Baccalaureate) has been with us for almost six years now. It was introduced as a performance measure (so there is publication of the numerical percentage of students in every secondary school taking the EBacc) in order to create an incentive for schools to encourage a larger proportion of students to take the core academic subjects of English, maths, sciences, history, geography and modern languages. In terms of its aims, it is working: the proportions nationally taking these subjects have risen year on year over the past five years. And the game has recently been raised, with the Government announcing a national ‘EBacc ambition’ to get the number up to 90% in as many schools as possible.
This is all well and good, and Bennett, like so many other schools which value high achievement, has maintained its focus on the academic core. But this is really not the whole story when it comes to a rounded education for all. We believe that it is not a question of ‘either or’, but ‘both and’. So a really high quality creative, artistic and sporting education is an absolute non-negotiable for us. That is why, some five or so years ago, we took the very rare step (in state schools) of appointing a full time non-teaching music director, a new post we created to help us balance out the provision we make at Bennett and ensure that the creative aspects of the curriculum, in this case music and performance arts, could be given really strong emphasis.
Why non-teaching? Simply because the more common pattern of a head of music who teaches a full timetable and who is also expected to develop a wide range of extra-curricular musical opportunities is a very hard call. Teaching a full timetable is a tough and demanding undertaking in itself – in our view, asking someone to do this AND do what we wanted to enable many more students to access musical and performance opportunities was simply unreasonable.
Mr Paul Showell has been the first holder of this post, and by every measure has achieved enormous success. Now that he is moving on to an exciting and prestigious new post, we are committed to maintaining the role to build on Mr Showell’s successes and continue that emphasis on the wider and creative curriculum for as many of our students as possible. We have an exciting field of applicants for the role and will shortly be interviewing, confident that we will make a strong appointment.
The months of March to May are busy in every headteacher’s diary for teacher recruitment and interviews. Another topic which has received a lot of news coverage is the national shortage of teachers, and it is certainly our experience that fields of applicants for teaching posts are smaller than they once were. While the national media also report larger numbers of teachers leaving or considering leaving the profession, it is good to be able to report that at Bennett numbers of teachers moving on this year are actually exactly the same as last year, and, have been stable, in terms of the percentage of teachers employed, for the past 3 years. Moreover, despite those smaller fields of applicants in some subjects, we have been able to fill every teaching post we have needed to recruit for this year. This is due in part at least to the excellent work being done under the Teaching School programme (Bennett is a designated Teaching School) which is helping to make it easier for returners to teaching to retrain, and indeed to recruit potential new teachers to train ‘on the job’ at the school and with our wider group of partner schools. This is very heartening, and a tribute to all involved.
The final topic, and most recently controversial, is that of academies. The government has set out its vision for ‘full academisation’ (not a particularly attractive phrase!) of the school system by 2020/22. I can fully understand how difficult this feels for schools which have not been involved in academies thus far. Bennett became an academy in spring 2011, at an early stage in the process, and is now functioning as a multi-academy trust, known as the Tenax Schools Trust. At this stage in our development two other schools have joined us, Sir Henry Fermor Church of England Primary School, in Crowborough, and Brenchley and Matfield Church of England Primary School. Three further schools have formally now asked if they can join too, and we will of course be opening, as a multi academy trust, a brand new primary school in Tonbridge from 2017. We will have to wait and see how the initiative pans out at national level, but for us and the schools we work with this is all about teachers and schools taking the lead as professionals in continuing to develop good educational and wider opportunities for children and young people, underpinned, Church schools as we all are at the moment, by a strong Christian ethos.
Finally, I would like to wish all students about to embark on public examinations, and of course their families supporting them, every success. It is a demanding time for all involved, but with support, and indeed our prayers, we trust that all young people taking examinations will be able to achieve their best.