Dear Parents and Carers,

After such a long half term before Christmas, this one seems to be flying by. I hope you’ll find this bulletin useful and, as ever, if you have any comments or queries please feel free to contact me at the school.

Trust Review

Not so long ago, if a school were judged to require improvement during a full Ofsted inspection, they would expect to receive a shorter monitoring inspection probably within a year. The idea was to gauge progress towards being judged as good during the next full inspection. It would provide a helpful feedback for school leaders and governors, and let parents know what progress had been made. Generally speaking, you’d have to say that is a good idea.

For one reason or another, most likely because of limited capacity at Ofsted, schools no longer necessarily get those monitoring visits. Personally, I would welcome one and if we get one then I will be happy to work with inspectors to get a clear picture of where we are and where we are heading. However, in the likely absence of that monitoring inspection I thought it might be helpful to share with you some of the outcomes from our recent Trust Review.

In late December we were visited for two days by a team of headteachers and senior leaders from within the trust, as well as Ken Jenkinson, the retired head of Colchester Royal Grammar School. They visited a lot of lessons, spent a lot of time in corridors and canteens and spoke to a lot of students and staff. I wanted to share some of the headlines from their report with you, so you know how your children’s’ school is progressing. Here are some, though by no means all, of the positive comments they made:

  • The behaviour, attitude and appearance of the students are significantly better than last year.
  • New structures such as the school day, break and lunch routines and the embedding behaviour policy are all supporting rapid change in the school.
  • Team approaches to solving problems were visible, with most staff proactively challenging and reinforcing expectations of the school whether in the classroom or outside.
  • Middle leaders spoke of a culture of high challenge. They are held to account effectively by senior leaders but in a climate of mutual support and respect.
  • There is significant impact of the consequence and reward system. Students are clear of expectations. Rewards far outweigh sanctions, leading to an atmosphere of positivity and achievement.

They also offered some points for us to consider as we continue to improve:

  • Do all teachers take advantage of students’ good behaviour to teach as much as they could?
  • Can all teachers or leaders articulate the purpose and impact of their curricula? Why are we teaching this, and why in this order?
  • Do all middle leaders have a sufficiently clear understanding of their role and their responsibilities for supporting and developing their staff?
  • Are expectations of students and the level of challenge as high as they could be in all lessons, both in terms of the quantity and the quality of the work undertaken?

I agree with all of those points and in fact we have already started talking about how we as a staff can Teach More, so that students do more, learn more, make more progress in each lesson.  You’ll hear more about Teach More as the year progresses.

Year 11 Preparation Exams

These have begun this week and will really pick up speed next week with Biology on Monday. Our expectations of the way that students approach these exams are very high – I expect them to line up in silence before the exam, then to enter the exam venue and sit down in silence too. If students take phones into the venues in their pockets, they will be disqualified from that preparation exam. I can’t emphasise how important this is – every year students across the country fail exams because they have a phone on them and are therefore disqualified from that paper. The sooner we get into the correct habits the better.

We will be providing a complimentary breakfast again before the morning exams – croissants and fruit for any students that want it. Teachers will be at the breakfast meetings to support students with last minute revision and preparation. Often students just need someone to remind them how much they know and help to boost their confidence.

Parent Governor

I was pleased to have enough interest for this post that we were able to hold an election. Thank you very much to Andrew Kendrick and Mike Dalzell for putting themselves forward. There was clear support for both candidates but as the one with the most votes Mike Dalzell has been elected to join the governing body. Congratulations to him.

Greener School

I have met with the caterers, Vertas, and had a very interesting and productive conversation. They are committed to removing all single use plastics from their canteens by March of next year, which I applaud. We are running down stocks of polystyrene trays and, once they have gone, will be replacing them with card ones. That should be within the next week or so. They are investigating the options for sustainable cutlery and will be coming back to me with a recommendation presently. As part of the conversation they mentioned they are likely to have a number of initiatives over the coming months that they will need to trial before rolling them out across schools generally. I hope I spoke accurately for students when I said that we would be happy to help evaluate any new ideas they wanted to try.

I’m also delighted to report that the vast majority of the 180 trees and bushes that we planted in the autumn term are still in situ and have a good chance of taking root properly.

Upper Key Stage Play

The Play last week, Game Over by Mark Wheeller was a great success.  The cast were excited to be able to perform it for the author who came to work with them and watch the play last Wednesday.  The play tells the story of Breck Bednar who was murdered, aged 14, after being groomed online. We were privileged to welcome his mother, Lorin LeFave to the audience. It was only the second time the play has been produced and the first time she had seen it. I don’t underestimate what an emotional experience that must have been for her, and for the cast as well. Such maturity and sensitivity in such young people is quite humbling.

Upcoming events

Year 9 options forms need to be returned by February 14th. This is an important deadline. Because we allow so much freedom in options, there is a lot of work to do once the forms are in to make it all work.

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