What a difference a week makes! Welcome back to school, or welcome to school, for all students returning or new. It is an annual privilege and joy to welcome particularly new year 7 students to the school. There is little so moving as to see these children on the brink of secondary school together on the first day of term, with a mixture of excitement and nervousness which accompanies this transitional moment.
Fortunately, transition to secondary school is so much better planned and staged than it once was, and we have this year experienced very few ‘wobbles’ from new year 7 students. However, it is inevitable, because they are taking on board so much new information and following a much more demanding daily routine than previously, that they will become very tired during these first weeks at secondary school. It is quite normal that by October half term many are almost ready to drop!
I think the next most poignant sight, after new year 7s, is meeting the newly qualified teachers starting their career in this noble profession at the beginning of the new school year. The freshness and enthusiasm with which these young professionals approach the challenges ahead is an inspiration to all of us – especially those, like me, who are a bit longer in the tooth! This school year is in fact, rather terrifyingly, my 27th working in teaching and schools. Of course, learning to do something as complex and demanding as teaching effectively requires on-going support and mentoring, and all newly qualified teachers have allocated mentors among more experienced teachers, and have regular sessions in school where key topics are discussed and reflected upon. They also have to meet exacting standards, nationally determined, in order to pass their newly qualified teacher year and become fully fledged teachers in their own right. We have a whole team in school working on this every year.
As always we began the school year by coming together on Monday as a staff in worship to remind ourselves of our Christian purpose, and to pray for the school, the students and for ourselves in the year ahead. The Eucharist was celebrated by Revd Rachael Knapp and Revd Chris Dench, our chaplain and chair of governors respectively. Teachers who have worked in non-Church schools often find it quite a surprise that we begin in such a ‘serious’ way, but that is very much the kind of school this is, and there is no better point in time to recall our faith core than the first hour of the working year.
The year we have ahead of course is one where we know, for the first time in the past three years, that we will not have an Ofsted inspection, having been inspected and so highly praised in June this year. One of the priorities for us, as the school’s leadership, will be to focus on maintaining the momentum of continuous improvement in the school which has brought us to this point, but which we are determined not to allow to slow, just because we have the Ofsted endorsement. Areas we are going to be prioritising in our improvement planning will include any subjects which have performed less well than the best this summer, and further enhancing the quality of teaching across the school. We are also continuing to focus on building up our musical provision, and this year, particularly on the back of the exceptional success of London 2012, we are going to turn our attention to bettering what we offer in sports across the board. More information about this will appear in due course.
The year ahead will be an exciting and challenging one for me personally also. Last March I had the honour to be elected as vice president of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), the main national association representing secondary school heads and deputies. This means that alongside continuing to take a very active and hands-on approach to leadership and management at Bennett, I will also be undertaking other work beyond the school, engaging in wider educational debates and consultations on a wide range of issues. I am totally confident that the impact of this will be of benefit to Bennett, as it will mean that the most accurate and up to date opportunities and information on educational issues are directly available to Bennett staff.
To finish this first posting, I should also say something about the on-going debate on GCSE English results this summer. Those who have followed this in the news will be aware that levels of dissatisfaction about the way in which English grades were awarded this year is very intense and widespread indeed. In my view, the examination boards, particularly AQA, failed to ensure that the grades were awarded fairly and equitably in a way which reflected achievement in the subject. There are gross inconsistencies and unfairnesses, and individual students, not to mention schools and teachers, have been short changed. Ofqual, the statutory regulator for the examination boards, has been summoned to appear before MPs next Tuesday. I have today written to Greg Clark MP, the constituency MP for Tunbridge Wells, to ensure that he is aware of my views on this. I would encourage any parent who shares my views to do likewise. The website www.theyworkforyou.com/mp offers an easy way to identify and send a message to an MP.
Finally, I would invite all parents and friends of the school, and any other readers, to continue to pray for the work of the school and for its students and teachers at the start of this new school year. I would also like to thank the many who I know do so already.