Finally the spring seems to have arrived in earnest and I have just come in from a very pleasant lunch time at school when students were able to use the now quite dry school field for playing or just sitting and talking. There is nothing more evocative of the summer term than this. The summer term of course also means the advent of GCSE, AS and A Level examinations and it is startling how fast the days between Easter and the start of the examinations disappear. After today, we have only 10 school days left for students in year 11 and only 8 for students in year 12 before normal lessons end and exams start. I know that many students are working very hard indeed at the moment, and have carefully planned revision programmes and are getting much support and encouragement from home. For any who are not yet revising and preparing as hard as they could, the message I would want to give is that it is really never too late to make a positive difference. Sometimes revising for exams feels too daunting because there seems so much to do – the trick is not to think about it for too long but just start doing something, then the whole exercise seems more manageable. I never cease to be amazed and humbled by the lengths staff here go to to support students. I don’t want to embarrass or single out any individuals, because teachers do so much of what they do not for public recognition or reward, but out of a burning sense of wanting to offer the best for each of their students. I know of examples of teachers, unasked, giving time and energy even at weekends to some ‘harder to reach’ students or those particularly struggling.
School life since the Easter holidays has been as busy as it normally is at this time of year. This week we are holding the annual appeals for parents of children who wanted a place at Bennett for September 2013 and did not get allocated one in the normal way. The independent panel hears their reasons for continuing to want their children to come to Bennett, and the school is required to set out why it believes its current maximum number is right. We are in the fortunate position of continuing to be oversubscribed and we do obviously need to make sure that the number of children we have in school can be educated and organised effectively. However, I always feel for parents who for whatever reason have not secured the school place they hoped for.
This morning we had one of our regular Eucharists, this time with students in year 7. Currently our chaplain, Revd Rachael Knapp, is out of school on jury service – hopefully back next week – so we were delighted to welcome Revd Robert Avery from King Charles Church in Tunbridge Wells in to lead the worship. It was a particular pleasure as Revd Avery is both a governor and a parent here, and I am sure he will have had a positive impression of students in year 7 as they sang heartily, read well, and were accompanied by excellent music, as ever.
Walking around the field at lunchtime today it was difficult to imagine that only a few short weeks ago it was covered in snow. Indeed, over the Easter holidays I was able to go up on to the Ashdown Forest and visit the students in year 10 who were undertaking a Duke of Edinburgh practice expedition. On the evening of my visit the students were in remarkably good humour as they had just completed a very long walk carrying heavy packs and the temperature as they cooked their evening ‘meal’ was already close to zero. What they didn’t know was that they would be completing the walk the next day in continuous sleet! Just a few days later our Duke of Edinburgh team was over in the Brecon Beacons in deep snow with the gold candidates. The Award is about overcoming adversity and staying cheerful when in discomfort – it fulfilled this aim admirably over the Easter holidays!
Also over Easter we were running a range of Easter schools for primary aged children. Basketball, debating, computer animation and music were all on the agenda and it was great to see children in years 5 and 6 enjoying themselves and learning at the same time. Also over the holiday our French teachers accompanied a group of sixth formers to Montpellier for a French language residential, and they all came back positive about the chance for intensive French practice.
We are just now putting the finishing touches on our staffing complement for next school year. Apart from one or two last minute moves, we are fully staffed with some 90 well qualified teachers for September. We will have a significantly smaller number of newly qualified teachers than this year, and it is good to be retaining so many of the staff we have inducted into teaching this year. There are still some internal posts of responsibility to advertise and appoint for, which we will be doing between now and half term. This year, as many readers know, we have been promoting some sporting activities more intensively in year 7 particularly, and we are particularly pleased that Mr Tom Swallow, a highly qualified coach previously employed by the RFU, who has been coaching the year 7 boys’ rugby team part time this year, will be joining us on a full time basis as Rugby development Officer next year. This will enable much greater opportunity for rugby coaching and playing across all year groups, and Mr Swallow will be contributing also to wider extra curricular sport.
There continue to be almost weekly major education stories in the national media, many designed, it seems to me, to undermine parents’ confidence in our school system. From the point of view of a headteacher, it is important that whilst not ignoring legitimate national debate on education and its future, I make sure that the focus of the school remains the education, development and welfare of students here. When I am asked, as I frequently am, what it is about Bennett that makes it so successful, I emphasise always that it is the ethos which pervades the school, founded on optimism about every child and determination to achieve the best for them.