4th December 2020

Dear Parents and Carers,

After an extraordinary term it has come almost as a surprise that there are only two weeks left until the Christmas break. It’s important to us that we can try to make the end of this year as pleasant as we can for the students and staff so we’re going out of our way to bring some Christmas cheer to the school. We put our tree up this week, very kindly donated to us by Sturmer Nursery. We’ve started the tutor room decoration competition. We’ve ordered some new outdoor lights to brighten up the front of the school. Students have been colouring in acetates for the stained-glass window display. To paraphrase the song, it’s beginning to feel a little bit like Christmas. The unexpected snow today helped a bit too, until it all turned to slush.

Key Stage 3 Assessment

 In the past, schools used a system of National Curriculum Levels to assess and report on students’ progress and achievement in Years 7 to 9. The government removed those grades in 2014 and did not replace them. Schools were left to devise their own systems.

Like many schools, at SWA we used GCSE grades in all year groups. The advantage to this was that everyone recognised those grades and what they meant. However, we have increasingly felt that for those younger students they were inaccurate and unhelpful; a GCSE grade reflects a great breadth of knowledge which students have in Year 11 but not in Year 7. It is both unreliable and demotivating, a bit like telling someone after their first driving lesson that other people who perform like they did in their first lesson typically go on to pass on their third attempt. What you really need to do in that situation is stop worrying about a distant test and just get on with doing your best.

So, we have decided to stop using grades at all before Year 10 and instead report on the actual marks that students get in their assessments, alongside an average mark for their class or year group. There isn’t space here to go into the detail, but Mr Butterworth will be writing to you to explain exactly how the system of reporting will work and how we will measure students’ progress against national benchmarks. The first progress checks following this pattern will be out before the end of term.

Year 11 Mocks

Year 11 are part way through their first cycle of mocks. Because they didn’t sit exams at the end of Year 10, this is their first experience of a full-scale series of exams in formal exam conditions, exactly as the GCSEs will be in the summer. We’ve made some adaptions to reflect the threat of Covid, including changing the seating plans so that each student occupies the same seat for the entire series. The students, as you’d expect, are doing marvellously. They arrive at the line-up sensibly and calmly, then go into their exam with the right mindset to succeed. Attendance at after-school catch up sessions is good. The behaviour of the year group is excellent and has been all term. They are doing everything right to ensure success in the summer.

GCSE and A-Levels next summer

We heard more detail this week about the changes the government intends to make to exams this year for Year 11 and Year 13. Those include delaying the exams by three weeks, telling us which topics will be examined in advance, allowing formulas sheets in some exams and adjusting the grade boundaries to, in short, make the exams easier. They are quite clear that they think the exams should go ahead.

I have mixed feelings about this. Compared to other schools and sixth-form centres nationally, our students have had a relatively undisrupted term, so currently it looks as if our students would benefit from this arrangement. For those schools which have been very disrupted, this is unlikely to be enough to give their students the support they need. Suffolk might end up in March where Manchester is now. We will continue to provide the best education we possibly. Every lesson of every day counts.

Haverhill Community Sixth Form

We’re actively recruiting to the sixth form for next September. I grew up in an industrial town in Lincolnshire and know exactly what it’s like to want to spread your wings as soon as you can, to start to explore the rest of the world. That’s often the right thing to do, but I think sometimes students underestimate how much time they will spend travelling to colleges in Bury and Cambridge and over estimate the benefits of going to a dedicated college rather than a school sixth-form. Every year, students leave us at the end of Year 11 only to return before Christmas of Year 12 because life at a college isn’t what they expected. It’s good to welcome those people back, but they come to us part way through a course. That means they have to catch up and, if they move after the middle of October, they leave all the funding for that year at the college they started the year at. It is frustrating that this year various colleges will share between them funding of £20,000 for students now taking their A-levels with us.

It is sometimes the case that students have to go elsewhere because we just don’t offer the courses they want to study. Following some requests, we’re expanding our offer this year to include Music and Economics A-levels. We’re converting a classroom into a workshop so we can recruit to A-level Engineering from next year, because that’s what local employers tell me they want. We’re serious about having a sixth form that not only meets the needs of our community, but is so good that people from outside of Haverhill to want to travel to get to it.

Our teachers are very well qualified, with way above the national average for a secondary school having been to the top universities in the country. In science alone, two teachers attended Cambridge and one Oxford. Two others have combined Bsc and Msc qualifications and one has a PhD. In history, all four full-time teachers have either a degree or a postgraduate qualification from Cambridge.

If you want to know more about our sixth form offer, look at the HC6 website, or contact Mr Maltby to arrange a conversation.

Lord Lieutenant’s Award

I’d like to congratulate Miss Powell on receiving an award from the Lord Lieutenant of Suffolk in recognition of her work in the summer when she ran our mini-school for vulnerable children and the children of key workers. She also led on our SWA foodbank. We know that there is nothing she wouldn’t do to support our children and their families, and it’s really good to have that recognised by others. Well done Miss Powell, and thank you. No one deserves it more than you.

Extra Training Day

We feel that we need an extra training day next term to support staff in continuing to deliver the best education they can in these very challenging circumstances. That day will be on Tuesday 5 January 2021. Students will return to school on Wednesday 6 January. I apologise for the short notice.

Have a good weekend,

Andy Hunter