Dear Parents and Carers,

Thank you for your ongoing support as we move the school back to being the great school your children and this community deserve. We’re just completing a student survey which I will share with you once it is finished. I hope that will accurately capture how students feel about their school and help us to improve their experience and outcomes further. They certainly seem cheerful, and in recent meetings with governors have been very positive. Thank you to those of you who gave so much positive feedback after the options evening. I’m glad it was such a success.

Greener School

I met with the Eco Council yesterday. What an impressive group of students they are. They share my sense of impatience and frustration when they can’t bring about the changes they want to overnight, but I suppose patience is a virtue we all learn in time. We talked about the need to reduce our use of single use plastics by moving to reusable water bottles, the need to keep recycling bins free of anything other than recycling and the need to educate students in litter migration so that they better understand the consequences of dropping litter. We can’t recycle everything and litter is better in landfill than in a hedgerow. They are really keen to get going on their campaign next half term.

Despite the best efforts of storm Ciara, the vast majority of the 180 trees and bushes that we planted in the autumn term are still in situ. We’re hoping to complete another phase of the landscaping to repair damage caused by the building project in the next few weeks and start to remove some of the fencing, so the school will literally be greener.

Student Printing

As a school, we print a lot. We are trying to make some changes, such as introducing a new font for our posters and flyers which uses 30% less ink, but the biggest difference we could make is just to print less. Last year we printed 2.25 million sheets of paper.

We all need to cut down – staff and students alike. I will be talking to staff about this in the coming weeks. As for students, we will introduce a new spending cap of £3 per student per month. This will cover the needs of 95% of our students. The small number of very prolific printers will need to either print less or to ask us for a special exception. The cap will be in place as of March this year.

Home/school communication

Generally speaking, my communications with parents are a pleasure. Occasionally though, we receive emails or phone calls from parents and carers which are unpleasant and aggressive. Often this is simply a reflection of the importance that any parent or carer places on their children’s wellbeing and their frustration when they think their child is being treated somehow unfairly. However, the fact that I can understand why people behave in this way doesn’t mean that I have to accept it. It isn’t fair to school staff to make them feel anxious or intimidated.  I have yet to come across any situation which can’t be resolved to everyone’s satisfaction given time and effort, and I hope you trust that we will always do our best. With that in mind, we will be adding the following statement to the school website:

“It is our aim to work with parents and carers to support students as effectively as we can. We approach our work in the spirit that we are all on the same side. We will take care to speak to students and to parents with respect, patience and consideration. We ask that parents and carers treat us with the same respect, patience and consideration. If you think we have failed to live up to those standards, please let the headteacher know. If we think you have failed to live up to those standards, please don’t be offended if we let you know.”

Year 11 Preparation Exams

Year 11 will by the end of today have completed all of their preparation exams. Marking them is a massive job so it will be a little while before we can share the results. In the meantime, I would like to congratulate Year 11 on their approach to the exams. It has been good to see so many of them in the canteen before the morning exams, eating breakfast and revising with their teachers. Their behaviour when lining up and entering the hall has been excellent too. I hope they will have a well-earned rest over half term and come back for the final push next half term. There are only ten school weeks left until the summer exam series begins, so when we come back every lesson has got to count.

Staff absence

I am conscious that we are asking students, especially in Year 11, to do all they can when some of them have been having to cope without their regular teachers. I think our rates of staff absence are normal for a school of this size and our absence procedures are similar to those that many of you will work with in the private sector. I can’t go into details with parents about why staff are absent, and nor would I want to, but I do want to assure you that where staff are absent for a sustained period of time we do all we can to rearrange timetables to minimise the impact. Often this means that, if we have to employ supply staff we try to put our permanent staff with the classes that need them most – those the closest to examinations – which means that students in other groups might lose their teacher and have supply instead for a short period. Often this isn’t a problem because some of the supply staff we get are very good indeed, but it does mean the group getting to know a new teacher. Those groups should take comfort from the fact that if a member of staff falls ill when they are the ones close to an exam, they will get the same preferential treatment. We try very hard to avoid classes having a succession of different supply staff.

House News

The house sports competition couldn’t be closer. Brunel won the Year 8 Dodgeball competition, with Darwin in second and Cavell third, but Cavell’s supporters won the team spirit points. That leaves all three houses tied on 210 points. Year 7 are competing this week. Darwin have been either in the lead or joint leaders at every stage this year. Brunel have never been in the lead until now. It’s all to play for.

Upcoming events

I believe this email has gone out under separate cover, but I’ll repeat it here for good measure:

On Monday 24th February, Sue Miller and Annie O'Neill from OM Health & Wellbeing (school nurses) will be running an information and support session for parents and carers of year 10 and 11 students on 'How to support your child with exam stress.' This session will take place in the Studio at 4pm and will last about an hour, including time for you to ask for specific advice regarding your child if need be. This session is for parents/carers only, and not students. We hope it give you useful strategies to help you support your child through the upcoming GCSE and prep exam period. There is no need to book - if you would like to attend, we'll see you in the studio at 4pm on the 24th.

The next Parents’ Forum is on 11 March at 6pm. We’ll be discussing the possibility of forming a Parents’ Association to act as both an advisory board to the school leadership as well as a fundraising and event organising body. As ever, all parents are welcome. If there is something you would like to discuss in particular please let me know in advance and I’ll add it to the agenda.

Have a good weekend,

Andy Hunter