The past two weeks have been exceptionally busy and I am all too aware that I have not posted anything on this blog for nearly a fortnight. However, I have been sending the occasional tweet with brief thoughts on topics of interest, and the occasional retweet or link to other articles and reports. My Twitter feed is available from this website, as is the ‘official’ school one.
As we move into the last three weeks of term there are many more important school events. Year 11 will be taking their trial GCSE examinations, and there will be Christmas events such concerts, services, and presentation evenings. We are delighted in particular that the Member of Parliament for Tunbridge Wells, Greg Clark, will be coming in to present the GCSE certificates to last year’s GCSE students.
Many of you will remember the impressive array of overseas events which Bennett students took part in last summer. Among these was a small group of students who, accompanied by Mr Tyson and Mrs Santaana, raised money to go and visit our partner school in the twin diocese of Rochester in Tanzania, Mpwapwa. One of the sixth form students who participated in the visit, Joshua Heaps, has written an excellent account of the visit which the British Council has published on its website. The account can be read here http://schoolsonline.britishcouncil.org/international-education-week-2012/use-your-voice . The posting has generated wider interest and after I tweeted it yesterday we received requests to reproduce it elsewhere. Well done Joshua!
There have been headlines this week about the number of students applying to university nationally, which is down about 8% on figures at the same time last year. This is something I think as a country we need to be very concerned about, whatever our personal views on the tuition fees issue. Last year in the UK only about 37% of school leavers went on to university, and this is one of the lowest figures in the developed world. It is certainly true that the modern economy has fewer jobs than ever for young people who are not educated or trained to a high level. There is a view which is now being articulated at all levels that we still need to be aiming for a significantly higher proportion of young people to be educated to degree level, probably around 50%, and that we also need much better vocational training, probably in the form of apprenticeships, for a large proportion of the rest. It is in my view a scandal that for so long we have invested so little attention in improving the quality, number and range of apprenticeships, although in this area things are now at last beginning to get off the ground. The recent ‘Apprenticeship Show’ held locally was attended by a number of our sixth form students and reports were that there were some promising offers of training available for school leavers with good A Levels, as well as lower level qualifications. Here at Bennett in the sixth form we are aiming to get over 80% of our students into university on an appropriate course, because, despite the costs involved, for the majority, though not all, of of our students education at university level provides the best way to maximise opportunity and fulfilment in later life.
Earlier this week the Annual Report of Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector for Schools, Sir Michael Wilshaw, was published. It was a mixed bag. As most readers will be aware, this school was judged by Ofsted to be Outstanding in all areas in June this year, and many of the positive comments about teaching and leadership made in the national report resonate with aspects of this school which were particularly praised. The report concluded that across England schools were improving and teaching was getting better al the time. However, the national report contained a ‘league table’ of local authorities ranked by the proportion of primary age children attending Good or Outstanding schools. There are 148 local authorities in England, and Kent was ranked tenth from bottom. As Kent is also the largest local authority in the country this means that its (negative) impact on the figures is very significant. At this school we draw on about 80 different primary schools, over 60 of which are in Kent, so we were not surprised to see Kent’s position in the tables. However, it is difficult to imagine quite how things can have been allowed to drift into such a poor state and remain there for so long. Those responsible for leading the improvement of Kent’s primary schools certainly have a challenge ahead of them. A rough calculation tells me that Kent is faced with bringing about a significant improvement in at least 150 primary schools, which is no mean feat.
In the Church of England last week of course caused considerable controversy by deciding by a narrow margin not to ordain women bishops. I do not comment in public on matters to do with internal Church of England decisions – there are just too many people it would be possible to upset. However, I think it is safe to comment on a speech by the MP who speaks for the Church of England in the House of Commons, Sir Tony Baldry. Lamenting the decision not to proceed with women bishops, Tony Baldry told the House of Commons a couple of days later that “if the Church of England wants to be a national church, then it has to reflect the values of the nation.” I don’t think one has to pause for too long to realise that this is a highly problematic statement. Clearly, whatever one thinks of the women bishops issue, a church has to derive its values like its faith from the Gospel, and certainly not from secular society. The statement might have made better sense if it had said “challenge” rather than “reflect”. Anyway, I came across this poem, supposedly written by Rowan Williams after the vote (no idea if that is true) and based on the famous If of Rudyard Kipling:
If you can bind the Church of England tighter,
And get it to calm down, if not agree,
About just who’s allowed to wear a mitre
And run a diocese – that is, a see…
If you can reconcile the Lib and Evo
With Anglo-Cath and rabid Atheist,
Then, when at last you’re given the old heave-ho,
And go to Cambridge, maybe you’ll be missed.