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Thursday 5 January 2012

Welcome back to school to all students and staff after the Christmas break.  It was nice to be able to finish the term in December without snow, as we have had for the past two years on the last day of the autumn term.  I was reminded that it was on the last day in 2010 that we had the extraordinary blizzard which left many students and staff stranded at school until late in the evening.  This week the weather has been dominated by wind, not quite as disruptive as snow, but it does make life difficult with children and the buildings can be somewhat draughty. Whether or not we get snow this winter remains to be seen – our plans are in place should it happen.

To return for a moment to the end of term, we were delighted that so many parents were able to join us for the two main musical events we held to celebrate Christmas, the Christmas concert on the penultimate Friday of term, and the Carol Service at St John’s on Thursday 15th December. It was fantastic to see the church bursting at the seams and to see students in year 7 in particular singing so enthusiastically.  The choirs we have at Bennett are now beginning to sound really superb, and we look forward to them going from strength to strength in the future.

In comparison with the autumn term this Lent term is quite short, but also very important for all students, especially those on examination courses.  At a point in February we reach the mid-way mark of the school year, and when you remember that, for exam classes, lessons finish some time in May, you realise that time is suddenly very tight.  It is really important for us to keep those students focussed and working hard.  Year 11 students will be digesting trial GCSE exam results and, hopefully, planning their revision schedules on the basis of what they achieved, and I know that Bennett families will want to work with them and with us to ensure that our young people achieve at least as well as those who have preceded them.

On the subject of achievement, as I write, we are awaiting the start of our GCSE and A Level certificate presentation evening.  Students who took public examinations in 2011, and who, of course, smashed all the records in terms of their achievement, will be here to collect their certificates in a simple awards ceremony.  This year we are pleased to welcome to present he certificates and special awards Mrs Kathy Griffiths, who is Headteacher of one of our sister Rochester diocesan secondary schools in Bromley. It is always tremendously uplifting to see Bennett students a term into their undergraduate courses and hear about their university experiences so far.

Education is never out of the news, even over the festive season.  There was significant coverage of the shortcomings of the examination system and the Secretary of State’s review of the whole system.  This seems highly appropriate to me – even this week, preparing for examinations being taken in this January session, we had papers with error notices in them.  There seem to be so many mistakes in our public examinations now, and so many misgradings, that it is entirely appropriate to undertake a thorough review.  Of course, one of the problems is that the system is totally overburdened.  In my view, we are simply doing too many examinations, and the boards tasked with running them simply do not have the capacity to do so at the level of quality and accuracy which one would wish for.  Let’s hope the review sees that and we see some real improvements in reliability and consistency, for everyone’s sake, not least the young people who work so hard for the exams and whose lives are so dominated by them.

On a personal note, I have to confess to what many people have probably surmised, namely that I am something of a Christmas humbug!  I am always secretly quite relieved when all the fuss of Christmas is over and things get back to normal, even if that is a windy and cold January.  However, this holiday did provide the opportunity to catch up with some interesting reading and cultural opportunities.  As a fan of dark Scandinavian crime fiction I indulged myself in watching all ten episodes of the second series of The Killing, recorded from last term – in two straight sittings!  And I have just launched into the Norwegian Jo Nesbo series of books. Somewhat more cheerfully, I enjoyed seeing The Nutcracker at the London Coliseum shortly before Christmas (a rare concession to the ‘Christmas spirit’ on my part!) and spent a great day at the Cheltenham races on New Year’s Day.  Not all bad, then!

May I take this opportunity to wish all members of the Bennett community and friends of the school a very happy new year.