Drinks All Round

Sunday was an idyllic, proud day.  I went to Bristol University to meet up with my second daughter who has survived Freshers’ Week.  It was not only a proud moment but an extremely reassuring one as the week of ‘Freshers’ still remains a cattle market, an initiation with alcohol, pizza and for some, sexual depravity.  She was proud to show her mum the welcome pack on her bedside table consisting of two rape alarms, five free bottles of shots and array of free condoms that seemed to be a chocoholic’s delight, with minty freshness and bubble gum for the less discerning.  Finally, I had to endure the ‘outfit’ for the ‘safe sex’ party that was the culmination of the week, cleverly called ‘no clothes disco’!

Now I hope my university friends do not think I have turned into a hypercritical Victor Meldrew; the first week at university was ever thus.  However, what message are we giving young people?  The welcome pack contains free pizza, vouchers, advice on how to stay sexually safe and the obligatory ‘Bible’.  This week the Natsal–3 survey reports that:

The ramifications of misadventure can be lifelong, going way beyond the inevitable nickname my friend ‘post-it’ endured throughout his four years at university.  He awoke from a drink fuelled night to find various post-it notes advertising and advising him of all things possible and impossible in Exeter, stuck via superglue to various parts of his body.  The nickname stuck for four years but it could have been worse.  Sexual assault leads the victim to a lifelong sentence of self-doubt, low esteem, concerns and personal recriminations.

Using excess alcohol to have the confidence to meet new friends and be socially acceptable would appear to be the British teenage message.  For schools that discharge their precious year 13 students to further education, this is a worrying indication of where society is.

The BBC report that 5,500 alleged sex crimes were reported in UK schools in 2014/15 is a major concern, as are the 600 rapes, many of which were peer on peer abuse.  Thankfully Ofsted’s new framework has tweaked the ‘Behaviour and Attendance’ judgement to the new all encompassing ‘Personal Development and Welfare’, including ‘Behaviour and Attendance’.

Hopefully, this will ensure schools do deal properly with their statutory responsibility and ensure a proper sex and relationships curriculum is taught by specialists, where all children are aware of consent, responsibility and what a meaningful relationship is.  This to me is as important as three levels of progress; it might not make headline judgement figures but if we get it right it will mean more young people have a safer, successful life.

Monday morning brings relief for both of us with Freshers’ Week survived and lectures at last starting.  Now that’s the reality of university life, not dressing up in a onesie cow outfit for the zoo disco!  I thought that was the domain of parties for six year olds not our university generation, but I am getting old!



Holiday Reflections

“It was the best of times, and the worst of times.”    Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

Too often in education we navel gaze and unduly worry about past wrongs or where we are heading, instead of concentrating on the here and now. I myself am as guilty as the next person of that very British phenomenon -a good moan. I am often, perhaps too often, heard decrying the latest political inspired whim: the potpourri of reform or the latest ridiculous statement on avoiding email after 6pm or not marking late into the night and so on issued by the Rt Hon Nicky Morgan, the Secretary of State for Education. Sometimes being in education feels akin to being a foreign tourist in London on a haphazard rickshaw ride: expensive, bewildering and at times a test of your moral fortitude.  And yet, this remains the best job in the world, and it is a privilege to lead a school with fantastic colleagues; and since holidays are a great time to reflect on the positive, that is exactly what I’m going to do.

For instance, I would passionately argue that British schools are improving rapidly and are better than they were. British schools do a remarkable job, and whilst recognising the correct concerns regarding recruitment, workload and excessive reform, I would want to highlight some of the remarkable work undertaken by schools to provide an education for all students.

Recently my intelligent colleague, Dr Tony Evans, Headteacher at the prestigious Prince Henry’s Evesham School, railed against a presentation praising all aspects of the Singaporean educational system (the number one system in the world according to the PISA rankings).  Tony quickly worked out that the top performing systems were the ones given the most money per student. His rough analysis approximated that:

– In Singapore, each child was allocated on average £11,631, and that the rankings of PISA went down from there according to the funding.

– England, where £5,413 is allocated per child (£ 4,000 for a Worcestershire school) id currently ranked 26 in the world.

– In the PISA rankings Peru is the bottom ranked nation for spending and for educational provision, reflecting the fact that just £65 per child is spent on education.

The unsurprising conclusion is that the more you spend, the more successful your educational system in terms of results is likely to be. This analogy is regularly proved in the premier Football league, the winners typically being those with the most money.

However, I believe these figures mask some of the fabulous work undertaken in British schools. It is a testament to schools and their staffs that they are requested to monitor extremism, safeguard our young people, monitor their eating habits and ensure that vaccinations are administered.  This does not occur in other educational systems and cannot be accredited or recognised in international data comparisons. Schools are the last bastion for society’s moderation and as well as getting remarkable academic results, they achieve life changing successes.

In my own school, I look at some of the remarkable colleagues whose daily work can all too easily go unrecognised in league tables and quantitative analysis. Pondering from my deck chair in the Isle of Wight on another successful, arduous year, I reflect on the skilful work undertaken by Becky Woods in guiding Year 10 and her House through the trauma of an unexpected, unexplained death of a popular student; and that of Penny Melville, whose inspirational Global Perspectives course (not recognised in the league tables) is independent learning at its best ,with individual projects on the threat of Syria, the rights and wrongs of the death penalty, and the argument for and against fracking. A demanding marking conundrum that often goes beyond 6pm! I also reflect upon the fourteen staff who regularly, freely give up their weekends for the pleasure of wet, bleak Duke of Edinburgh treks.

I also worry about some of our vulnerable families who will struggle to cope with the summer holiday. For example a family who heavily rely on our newly created Family Support Coordinator, Claire Griffiths, for the daily provision of daily, morning advice and even sometimes clothing, could well struggle and potentially implode.  Schools that I visit replicate these experiences, these caring staff, and the creation of new social service type posts to cope with relevant needs: they are efficient, effective and highly motivated, as they have to be in this current climate.

My school was rightly judged to be “outstanding” by Ofsted in 2010 and became “Good” in 2013, but the figures show continued improvement with whole school attendance rising from 94% in 2010 to currently 96%, NEET figures dropping to 0% and 5A*-C , A*-G continuing to rise. Schools may be judged under new inspection guidelines but they are improving and are doing a fabulous job. I have had the opportunity to work in seven vastly different schools, all with unsung, dedicated professionals who are inspirational and who are making a major difference to the life chances of young people.

Just give me proper funding, and I know we could deliver the best education in the world, and the best of times would follow.