Blog Archive 2017-2018
Unlike my parents and grandparents, I have not lived through the most decisive moments in European history. I fear though that we are now staggering towards a critical point as our politicians deliberate on our future relationship with the rest of the EU.
When I speak with older students, both here and on the Isle of Wight, many are worried about Brexit's impact on their opportunities and career plans. As one discerning youngster put it to me, “we have been lied to sir haven’t we”. Another who can now vote said, “I had no say in the result which will have a profound impact on the lives of us and other Sixth Formers for years to come.” When I talk to students about what matters to them they mention local opportunities, prospects post-16 or 18, the cost of transport, occasionally the economy, travel, housing and safety. Yet we were told that by leaving these issues could improve, well that remains to be seen.
Although not limited to youngsters taking A Level Economics or Business Studies, many students understand that trade deals with the EU will impact on our goods, services and jobs. Then there is the impact on the higher education sector. At the start of this year there were almost 147,000 EU students studying a higher education qualification in the UK, contributing £5.1 billion to the UK economy and supporting 20,000 jobs.
Most schools recruit a proportion of staff from EU counties, particularly to fill Modern Foreign Language positions. Future arrangements are unclear; our sector is already stretched when it comes to teacher numbers. In January 2018 a Public Accounts Committee report highlighted the fact that schools only managed to fill around half of vacant positions during 2015/16 and this, coupled with an increase in teachers leaving the profession before reaching retirement age and the decline in teacher training applications, is putting further pressure on schools.
All of this Brexit malarkey has ensured that none of the acute issues in education have acquired nearly enough political airtime. Do we remember the statements about educational funding being protected in cash terms, but in reality schools were being hammered by changes to national insurance payments and pension arrangements, at the same time the student populations started to grow? The demographic bulge will shortly hit the secondary phase with little evidence of strategic planning to cope. Then there was the raiding of post-16 educational funding, this has seen a real terms cut of over 17%. Then to bring us up to date, we have the latest teacher pay award, which you would be forgiven for thinking was fully funded. Wrong, the first 1% has to be found from existing budgets, the remainder is new money.
I am not a huge fan of documentaries concerning schools, however I have caught the BBC2 documentary ‘Schools’. A television production company were given unprecedented access enabling them to do a deep dive into the working of three Gloucestershire schools, exploring the difficult decisions Heads and teachers are making every day on the back of cuts to education funding. The series brings home the harsh realities of the impact of cuts to school funding.
The responsibility for education and its funding is the gift of national governments not the EU, but the EU promotes co-operation between member states. Our universities receive millions in research funding from the EU. The EU also actively encourages British students to study abroad, highlighted in the Erasmus programmes available across the EU. We have benefited from these at Oaklands for a number of years.
Undoubtedly, the UK is on the cusp of a decisive moment that could have a significant impact on the future of our country, it would be naive to think that the education sector will be immune from this. Further, it is our children that will have to manage the long-term fallout, negative or positive.
 The costs and benefits of international students by parliamentary constituency. Report Higher Education Policy Institute and Kaplan International Pathways.
 House of Commons Committee of Public Accounts - Retaining and developing the teaching workforce - 24 January 2018
Where has September gone? I turned over the page in my diary this weekend and there it was … October! Three more pages and we are at half term.
I am pleased to report that students have long shaken off holiday mode; they are working hard and our teachers are pleased with their effort. The first set of grades will go home just before half term.
This term is very long – fifteen weeks - so we want to make sure that we can pace ourselves whilst making sure that the curriculum is covered. I am a great believer in this term being the one where most of the work is covered. I hope you have had an opportunity to read the Oaklands News, in particular the report on examination success.
One area I would like to focus on during this blog is term time holidays. As a school, we have seen a significant rise in the number of parents requesting term time holidays. This is evident in our attendance statistics, which have sadly taken a hit. The analysis points the finger at term time holidays.
Managing the requests from parents to take children out of school for family holidays is always difficult, particularly due to the potential for disruption to that child and his or her classmates. The correlation between poor attendance and performance is absolute, so considering a request for a term time holiday may not be as straightforward as some parents believe.
The DfE is keen to discourage term-time holidays, the guidance states:
- It is for schools and academies, not parents, to approve a child's absence.
- Approval for term-time absence will only be granted in exceptional circumstances.
- Approval for a family holiday is unlikely to be considered 'exceptional'.
In accordance with the law, parents who breach the rules will be fined £60 per parent per child or, in some cases, rising to £120 per parent per child for late payment. If a parent refuses to pay the fine, he or she may be prosecuted, leading to a potential fine of £1,000, a community service order or, in extreme cases, imprisonment of up to three months.
Irrespective of a child's attendance record or profile in school, our ability to give authorisation for term time holiday is restricted by the law. To fall within the definition of 'exceptional circumstances', absences will generally need to be totally unavoidable, short and for reasons beyond the control of the family, for example, a bereavement abroad. The DfE has been clear that family holidays, even those ‘once in a lifetime’ will not fit these criteria.
Please consider this carefully when making holiday arrangements.
The dust is now beginning to settle for our current Year 13 students. This year record numbers of students have received unconditional university offers. The number of students taking up places in high quality apprenticeships has also increased.
Again this year students have been successful in gaining places at Oxford and Cambridge. Nine students obtained straight ‘A’ grades or higher in 3 or 4 subjects. All subjects performed well, particularly Sciences and Maths.
Around ‘A’ Level results time there is always something in the news that attempts to undermine the credibility of the exams or the application process to university. This year it is the turn of the ‘unconditional’ offer which, according to UCAS, has reached the dizzy height of 68,000 university places.
The university business model is based upon the income generated by filling the optimum number of courses. Over recent years it has been well document that universities have been out with credit card. For example, in the academic year 2015/6 Cardiff University raised £300 million through a public bond. University College London borrowed from the European Investment Bank help fund a new campus in east London. Somehow the debt has to be financed.
The UK birth rate provides a clue to the problems ahead; In 1997 there were 726K births. Undergraduates from this cohort of youngsters are just about finishing a 3 year degree. The number of births did not approach the 1997 high-water mark again until 2004/5. (The students currently in Year7/8.) Add this to the impact of Brexit and the draw of high quality post 18 apprenticeships, then it is clear that a perfect storm is brewing for university finance.
The unconditional offer gets the student through the door and their £9k tuition fee onto the balance sheet. There is something uncomfortable about the unconditional offer, not least its impact on the motivation of students. Perhaps we can go back to a position where universities offer courses with realistic but aspirational entry requirements.
I would forecast that a number of universities will have to collaborate, rationalise or even merge over the next few years if they are to survive. We have already seen this start to occur in the FE sector.
As we approach the exam season, it is quite natural for students to develop a sense of dread. Tests and exams can be a challenging part of school life for youngsters; a little bit of stress is a good thing. There are many good websites that provide sound advice to students, parents or carers. Just Google “exam stress”.
Hardly a day goes by without reading about children struggling with stress, anxiety, serious behavioural concerns, developmental challenges, mental illness including depression often in children as young as four, aggressive and violent behaviour, increases in ADHD and ODD diagnoses. In a country as relatively affluent as ours, it makes no sense. It is a serious condemnation on society that the resources to help youngsters with disability or mental illnesses are marginalised.
I would suspect that the number of youngsters causing concern is also down to better diagnosis. However, there is probably more to it. I would hazard a guess that ‘lifestyle’ and the impact it has on building resilience in students is a key component, particularly in managing stress, anxiety and other related conditions. The world might feel like a more perilous place than it was 50 years ago, in reality, it is us that have probably become more risk averse.
If I take a child on a school trip, it would be ‘more than my jobs worth’ than to allow them to climb a tree. (I don’t have a qualification in tree climbing.) We would rather have our kids playing with an iPad than roaming on the South Downs. When you lose control of one set of risks you replace it with another; the internet is probably the most risky thing you can expose a youngster to. In trying to prevent some bruises and bumps, we also inhibit our children’s development of autonomy, competence, confidence and resilience.
By insisting on doing everything ourselves, because we can do things better and more safely, or over-controlling our children’s lives, we deprive kids of the chance to make and test observations, to experiment and tinker, to fail and bounce back. Aligned to this is the urge to ‘wade in’. Being a parent means unconditional love for your children, it also means tough love, this is undermined when we feel the urge to wade in to our children’s troubles or complain at the first sniff of an issue. What message does this send?
I am not suggesting we allow our children to engage in activities without us accessing the risk - far from it. We must not be afraid to let our children grapple with a little bit of healthy risk and on occasions let them fail and not make excuses for them, this is how they learn and become more resilient. Engaging in pursuits away from cyber space, outside any educational justification, is just plain fun, something we’ve forgotten can be a worthy childhood pursuit in itself!
Maybe this might be the long term antidote to exam stress.
23rd March 2018
In any situation where groups of people come together, whether it be a family, school or in business, tensions can exist, some creative others less so. Charting a way through these can be problematic. I remember one not particularly helpful conversation with a youngster who said, “It’s not that I can’t forgive her; I can only do this if I get even”. We might recognise this as the proverbial “pound of flesh”. The term, “pound of flesh” originates from Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice and is central to the plot. A pound of flesh is something which is owed, that is ruthlessly required to be paid back. The figurative use of the phrase really speaks about an unreasonable request and having overtones of revenge.
I am no different from anyone else; forgiveness is difficult, reconciliation can be even harder still. I am minded of the quote from CS Lewis “Everyone thinks forgiveness is a lovely idea until he has something to forgive.” We may know intellectually that forgiveness is the only real, workable way by which to find healing and peace, but our emotions can often drive a different logic. History is littered with events where retribution is dealt out in the misguided hope that passing back the hurt on others will somehow facilitate healing. While Jesus would counsel us to turn a cheek, offer up a cloak and travel the extra mile, we stubbornly demand eyes and teeth and the proverbial pound of flesh.
True forgiveness is found through reconciliation. I was struggling to find something to write about this week until I visited the chapel and witnessed the large number of youngsters who had accepted an invitation to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation. (Over Lent I had made a commitment to write more regularly!) That experience promoted me to write this blog. During Lent we invite priests from across the Diocese and wider to provide the Sacrament. I am always grateful for the support they provide and by the time we reach Friday, somewhere close to 700 students will have experienced this life filling Sacrament.
Jesus clearly warned that God will not forgive our sins if we do not forgive those who sin against us. Someone once said “Forgiveness means letting go of the past, but reconciliation is about committing to a future", this is something intrinsically wound into the Gospel message of Jesus Christ and this important Sacrament.
11th March 2018
Most practising Catholics know what is expected and required of us during the season of Lent: prayer, fasting and almsgiving. We talk about giving something up for Lent, we want to make Lent special. I would imagine that I am similar to most Catholics in that I find this quite a challenge. If it was not a challenge then it would not be worth the endeavour!
This Lent I have taken it upon myself to improve the spiritual journey for our students, at the moment we are without a chaplain to provide resources, so I have stepped into the void. Each week I source a video clip which I hope will help students focus on the relevance of this important season. I have also made a commitment to double the number of ‘Headteacher’s Blogs’, I know many parents like to read these. (This is now the third since the beginning of Lent, I am aiming for Six.) For me this presents a challenge; I am not a natural wordsmith. I have met scholars who can bash out 5000 words before breakfast, unfortunately I do not fall into this category!
The 5th to the 10th March is marked as National Careers Week, in advance of this a number of speakers have worked with students during our assembly time. My thanks to those visitors who have come into school. The subtext to many of these talks has been about finding a career that excites the spirit. I have always believed that there is something in following your dreams.
Education and qualifications are very important, they provide youngsters with choice and opportunity but they do not provide the armour plate youngsters need against the headwinds of life. A youngster’s future will be influenced by the qualifications they have, but not set by them. What will influence a youngster’s future and certainly get them out of the starting blocks, is the level of faith parents have in him or her. What message does it send if we pour water on a youngster’s passion, dreams and aspirations?
A few times every year my Senior Team have a one-to-one with KS4 students to talk about careers and aspiration. Do we tell students to pursue their passions or dilute their aspirations with a dose of adult scepticism? Live their dreams or live in reality? What do you do when a student tells you they want to be the next Chris Boardman, Jessica Ennnis-Hill, Alan Sugar or Deborah Meaden, or they want to be movie stars, rock stars and games designers.
As a teacher and a dad I go back and forth on the subject of how and when to push youngsters towards or away from certain plans. Telling youngsters it won’t happen is clearly not true, or we would not have our own grown talent who are at the pinnacle of their game. The danger is that we try and suppress their enthusiasm because we believe we have something better, or have a preconceived idea of the journey a child must take. In the past, many children did what their parents did because this was the envelope of their parent's experiences, which is why families had generations service personnel, plumbers or even priests. A conversation that starts, I think you should become is doomed to failure. The conversation that starts have you considered is more likely to bear fruit.
The choice for youngsters now bears little significance to that of 30 yeas ago. Now there are countless career options, more than most of us can keep track of. Youngsters are driven by experiences and role models, they want to be what they see and can imagine. As adults we have a responsibility to provide guidance, but pouring water on something that excites a youngster is not only wrong it can crush self-esteem during the most vulnerable teenage years.
The words of the poem by W B Yates should resonate in our years when we listen to a the dreams and aspirations of our children.
Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams
2nd March 2018
The first half of the spring half term can be brutal, this year subzero temperatures, students and staff have had their share of flu, and if that was not enough, a school closure have all proved challenging. I find myself counting the minutes until Spring. Thank you to all parents for their support and encouragement on the 1st and 2nd March. I am particularly grateful to the site team for the work undertaken to keep the site clear on Thursday 1st March. The decision to close on Friday 2nd March was not taken lightly. I knew that somewhere along the line I would upset someone. It is very easy for youngsters and some parents to say, “shut the school”, but I am aware of the issues that this creates for families, particularly those with young children. Equally, our weather is never certain and a decision made 24 hours in advance of a forecast, could prove to be the wrong one. I also have to consider the management of news and information. It is never helpful for this to be disseminated in a piecemeal fashion. Having said all this, I think we got it about right. Thankfully extreme (for the UK) weather events like this occur rarely.
The school production was one of the casualties of the weather. I am very pleased that we are able to continue the school production of Beauty and the Beast. The first night , Wednesday 28th was a resounding success with a standing ovation. For the cast this has been a difficult time however I am sure that the momentum will return next week. The show must go on!
This term we have also experienced a number of staffing issues. I am always delighted when colleagues tell me that they are having a baby. In addition, a number of other colleagues have secured promotion towards the end of the recruitment cycle, this means that we have to find temporary staff. Nationally the recruitment of both temporary and permanent staff into the secondary sector is at crisis point. The government’s own statics confirm that recruitment for secondary school teachers missed its target by some measure. In fact, last year, only 80% of the required number of secondary trainees were recruited, the worst performance since comparable records began seven years ago. In almost every single secondary school subject, targets were missed apart from PE, and History. In some subjects the training targets were missed by over 30%. We are doing all that is reasonable to fill the current vacancies.
|Our lenten journey continues in school. The midpoint is now on the horizon with Laetare Sunday on the 11th March. This week during registration, students reflected on the time Jesus spent in the desert. To help students focus they watched this short video.|
Many of you will be aware of the death of Canon Terence ‘Tim’ Healy earlier last month. He was parish priest in Horndean where he celebrated his Golden Jubilee in 2012. He retired from there a few years ago. Whilst at Horndean he regularly visited the school to celebrate Mass with students and staff. I represented the school at his Requiem Mass on the 2nd March.
My assemblies at the beginning of January looked at the subject of Wisdom.
I posed a number of questions asking students to contemplate on the notion of Wisdom. One person who, in my opinion, has this virtue is Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks; a regular on Radio 4’s ‘Thought for the Day’. I recently sent staff a link to a speech given by him in the House of Lords https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1yupkG7NB8w
He addressed the subject of education and its connection with the Jewish story. Reflecting on some of the challenges young people face, there is a genuine importance for both schools and parents to provide a narrative that shapes youngsters into the adults we want them to become.
Storytelling in its most basic form is a means by which one generation passes their narrative on to the next, what they have found to be useful or not. If the story misses a generation it is lost forever. There is an indescribable attraction to narrative. Teenagers may not have a preference for a school lesson, but ask them about a favourite book or film, that’s a different story. If you park for a moment the tawdry slice of the teenage social networking traffic, the rest is the transaction of individual stories. So regardless of whether it takes the form of a novel, magazines, theatre, television or social networking everyone connects with narrative. We find them, we prioritise time to hear them, to connect with them, to share them, regardless of distance or time constraints. We look to stories to encourage us, to make us laugh or cry, to bring life meaning and provide us with heroes to look up to and model our own lives after.
How might this natural attraction be exploited for parents, teachers and learners? More importantly, as Catholics we have responsibility to ensure that God’s story, the Biblical narrative, is brought into our classrooms and our homes.
The narrative we are seeking is one that will supply youngsters not just with facts, but a set of core values onto which they might construct their lives. I would argue this is more important now than it has ever been; in the relatively short time I have been a teacher and a parent, there has been a shift in the availability of knowledge and information - it is both free, all is known and no information can be hidden from youngsters. Teachers and parents are no longer the gatekeepers of learning. Within this context if we don’t give youngsters a story they will find one. If we don’t provide them with healthy characters and heroes, they will seek them out in other places. The challenge in family life and education, will, I suspect, be about who tells what stories to our youngsters.
Fortunately, we have something to hold on to and hold we must. If stories contribute to the way we make sense of our experiences then as a Catholic community we have access to the story by which all other stories are judged, this is the only way to help our youngsters make sense of their experience. It’s a tough ask, but one that we must not shy away from.
The season of Lent provides us with an opportunity to ‘reboot’ our story, living the Gospel every day. Earlier this week I sent all Form Tutors a short video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_--3uVQ_TuA&t=88s ) asking them to use this during registration to tell the story of Lent.
To get to the heart of our story we must examine how Jesus lived. His actions were surprisingly simple; he was constantly embracing the vulnerable. Our attitude must be the same as Jesus
Most of what we take for granted has a fragile beginning:
- the first electric light was so dim that a candle was needed to see its socket
- Wilbur and Orville Wright's first airplane flight lasted only 12 seconds
- the first car travelled 2 to 4 miles per hour and often broke down; carriages would pass them, with their passengers shouting, "Get a horse!".
- During its first year, Coca-Cola only sold 400 bottles of coke.
It would be easy to give up when outcomes don’t live up to expectations!
For the last year or so, I have eased up in the gym in preference for going out on my bike. I am no athlete, and my family question my sanity, but three or four times a week, I am out of the house before school to complete a 30 mile loop. I know that we have many youngsters in school who swim competitively and they are up equally early to complete their training.
Whether it is invention, discovery, fitness or competition, achievement and outcome are linked to motivation, drive, persistence and commitment. The bible narrative provides us with a number of examples of characters who had to find similar motivation, often in the face of adversity. Moses fled from Egypt thinking his life was over, but really it had just begun. He was willing to try again and God sent him back to deliver His people from Pharaoh. Peter thought it was ‘game over’ after he denied Christ. But he was willing to get up and go again. Jesus did not stop until he said "It is finished!"
On Thursday 8th January 2018, to celebrate the school’s examination success at A level and GCSE, students in both year groups were presented with their certificates. This year the school invited two speakers. Dr Christopher Dobbs was one of the divers who was involved in the project to recover the Mary Rose. He is now Head of Interpretation at the Mary Rose Museum in Portsmouth. Chris’s story, stretching over 37 years, is one of motivation, drive, persistence and commitment. He talked about his journey from university to becoming one of the world’s renowned experts on the Mary Rose project including his experience of diving on the wreck. During his time on this project, he also talked about his battle against leukaemia.
Students and staff were also privileged to listen to former student David Harrington. He left Oaklands in 2009 to follow a career in music. He is now a sought after composer, accompanist and musical director. He has arranged music for Katherine Jenkins as well as for BBC and ITV productions. David is also the musical director of the popular classical cabaret act ‘All That Malarkey’. David talked fondly of his time at Oaklands and the positive impact that it had on his formation as a musician. He then entertained us on the piano.
As a note of thanks to our speakers, the school, from its charity collections, has made donations to The Mary Rose Charitable Trust on behalf of Chris Dobbs and The Forget-Me-Not Chorus which supports people with dementia and their families through music, on behalf of David.
This term promises to be busy with Year 9 considering their options, Christian Unity Week, the annual Ski Trip and our school production. We also have a large number of students who have stepped forward to be involved in the Faith and Football Enterprise Challenge. I am sure they hope to emulate last year’s winners.
Many Year 13 students have now received university offers. Success at GCSE has proved to be highly valuable for these youngsters in securing places at universities all over the country. A number of students have also received unconditional offers. In addition to University places, a number of students have also secured high quality apprenticeships.
Can I wish all students the best of luck with the rest of this term.