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Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Climb every mountain!

During the October half-term break I spent some time in Scotland. The wilderness and forests were just glorious and beautiful in their full autumnal colours. Whilst my wife had planned it as a short, restful break I quickly turned the opportunity to set myself (and her) another challenge.



Kitted out in appropriate mountaineering gear we set off on a wild and misty day to walk to the top of the Cairngorm summit. Whilst others were making the journey on the funicular we trekked up the steep, already snow covered rocky paths in a 50mph gale. At 4085 feet it is the sixth highest mountain in the UK. It took several hours!

At times it was two steps forward and one back with the odd strong gust blowing us sideways. The final few hundred metres was quite eerie with the hazy sun straining to break through the grey cloud rushing over the peak. Precariously balanced on the cairn at the summit, we took some incredible photos but felt disappointed we were unable to see the expected magnificent views.


As we started on the perilous return path, the wind suddenly abated, the sky cleared out and the awesome panorama finally made the journey all worthwhile. I said to my wife, “wow! Look at that” and gave her a hug.

The next day we did a tough 28 miles bike ride.

So what is the point of my story?

Learning is a life-long experience and series of challenges, both personally and professionally, as we strive to be better at what we do and who we are. It can be tough and things crop up that occasionally blow us off course. But it’s always important to have a goal, set high expectations and strive to achieve them. We need to be resilient and keep the faith in what we believe is right, learning from our experiences as we strive to achieve our aims. When our hard work brings success, especially when the journey has been difficult, we should celebrate with those that have helped us achieve it. Once the celebrations subside we need to plan the next steps and challenge to achieve even more.

This week our second Serious Weaknesses Ofsted Monitoring report was published. It highlights the good progress we have made since the HMI’s first visit. It identifies significant strengths of the college and the positive impact of actions we have taken. I am pleased it talks of ‘higher expectations’, ‘greater ambition’ and that the ‘bar has been raised’. Classroom practice observed demonstrated clear evidence of the professional development undertaken. We are clearly moving forward at a pace. There are and will always be things we can improve on, even when we become outstanding. This positive report should give everyone confidence that our college is succeeding. I am pleased we have climbed one mountain; now on to the next!

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Welcome Back!

Welcome back to the new term and college year. It was fantastic to see so many parents of our new year sevens accompany their children to meet their form tutors on the first morning. It was a great opportunity to build relationships and confidence. Anxious faces on arrival had changed to warm smiles by departure.

Our students in all years looked amazing with immaculate uniform; and a good job too as each had their photos taken during the day by the school photographer. Proud parents may choose to purchase them; we however, not only use them to update our database, but also to create teaching group seating plans so names can be learned quickly and students grouped in the best arrangements for learning activities.

The children return to many changes including new staff, longer lessons, a new curriculum and increased assessment. Reported assessments have now moved from three to six tracking points per year and parents will be able to view these on the VLE. Regular assessment is key to progress as at its simplest, it tells teachers what individuals do and don’t know, can and can’t do, allowing them to adjust their teaching accordingly. Insecure areas can be re-covered and established learning can be extended and deepened.

In the new 1-9 grading system, we have set aspirational end of year targets. Not all will achieve them but with hard work there is no reason why they shouldn’t. Having high targets is central to a culture of high expectations. ‘If you believe you can you will.’

This last summer several students proved a ‘can do attitude’ coupled with hard work and excellent teaching can provide success at the highest possible grades.

Individuals attained results at Sir Thomas Wharton College that could not have been bettered if they had attended any other school in the country. A*s in Mathematics and Sciences are hard to achieve at A Level and yet that’s precisely what a number of talented individuals attained (see the news items on the exam results).

The challenge now is to ensure many more students pass with higher grades, especially at GCSE. The demise of coursework, early entry and harder examinations has meant all students must be prepared well for terminal examinations. Our students will need to get used to the pressure of exam conditions, practise, revise and be confident in their knowledge and ability to write it down in the required way. Everything we do in the curriculum, from year seven onwards, must now be a spiral progression and preparation for those exams in year eleven.

Staff have worked hard over the summer planning and re-writing the curriculum and assessments. This has been supported by their colleagues in our outstanding partner organisations at Hungerhill Teaching School and HillTop Primary.

We expect a second Ofsted monitoring visit before October half-term to check on our progress towards moving out of a category. This will be reported by a standard letter and I will keep you informed of the outcome.

The first day has got off to a flyer and we intend to keep the pace up throughout the year. Keep an eye on the calendar for scheduled events. The first Parent Voice meeting and KS4 Guide to Parents are on Tuesday 8th and Wednesday 9th September respectively. Our Open Evening for future prospective students is a week later on Wednesday 16th September. Come along and join us!

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Welcome to the Headteachers First Blog!

In this first blog I will explain how we have responded to the HMI monitoring visit.

Many of you will have taken the opportunity to read the first HMI monitoring visit letter and will likely have been concerned by the comments about the action plan and speed of progress in addressing improvements to teaching.

The focus of the first HMI visit is on two documents provided to Ofsted – The STWCC Academy Trust Statement of Action and the detailed Action Plan.

The STWCC Academy Trust Statement of Action was approved by the HMI however he found the post-ofsted action plan to be ‘not fit for purpose’. The plan was deemed to have a number of weaknesses including:
  • Actions were not set out sufficiently over a period of time with specific phases
  • The plan did not make reference to the actions of external support providers
  • Identification of how the governors will play their role in evaluating progress
  • The clarity of accountability of senior leaders for actions
Other issues raised by the HMI visit were:
  • A view that insufficient training has been provided for members of staff to address the most pressing weaknesses in teaching including work to ensure assessments are accurate and that teachers’ lesson planning meets the needs of different abilities.
  • That senior leaders needed to quicken the pace of improvement, raise expectations and set out clearly what they expect of all teachers.
Within this blog I would like to explain and respond to the issues raised.

The first visit only involves one HMI speaking to myself, the senior leadership team, governors and the leaders of the schools providing external support. There are no discussions with staff or students or any observation of teaching. I and the team were extremely disappointed by some of the statements in the published letter. Much of the criticism can be explained without excuse, however it has provided, which I am sure was the intention, renewed determination to accelerate the pace of change and development.

It is first important to refer back to the original, full Section 5 inspection report released to the college on 23 February 2015. The lead inspector’s first bullet point under the heading ‘The school has the following strengths’ stated “The new leadership is tackling weak teaching and holding subject leaders to account. As a result, teaching and achievement are improving”. This was evidenced later in the report with examples.

The monitoring of teaching and students work had begun in earnest prior to Ofsted with staff being supported in improvement programmes. This was recognised in the report.

By the first visit monitoring visit, which was six working weeks from the release of the Ofsted report to the college, we had already held a training day on ‘assessment for learning’ and staff improvement programmes were on-going. This was regrettably not communicated well enough to the HMI during his visit. In this period of time support was being brokered with Hungerhill and Hill Top schools and bids made to the national college to fund support. By the visit we had created a new college action plan addressing the teaching and learning priorities from the inspection for a period up to the end of the summer term. We had collaboratively created a separate deployment plan for the funded external support. The HMI’s criticism of the plan was that it needed to be one plan over an 18 months period clearly showing the staff development actions, support deployment and accountability of all leaders involved. We accept that a fully amalgamated plan was not ready at that time; however the intentions and actions had begun including a quality assurance day of teaching to base line teaching with leaders from the support schools.

A new plan has been constructed following an HMI approved template provided by our support National Leader in Education (NLE) Beryce Nixon, which she has used previously for supporting a school in serious weaknesses. The plan is detailed and sectioned in to four phases (initiate, develop, sustain, embed) for each of the twelve Ofsted improvement areas. Each phase covers a term between March 2015 and July 2016.

New policies around the requirements of improving teaching highlighted in the Ofsted report have been created and communicated.

This summer term and next autumn term has considerable training included within the ‘initiate and develop’ phases of the action plan. Already we have delivered whole college training on ‘higher expectations’, ‘questioning’, ‘literacy’ and ‘planning for good progress’, with further sessions planned on ‘differentiation’ and ‘use of additional adult support’. These are complimented by bespoke training for staff to move them to consistently good or outstanding within a period of time. All training has been jointly planned and delivered with colleagues providing support.

It is not appropriate to communicate to the community the detail of personnel involved in support programmes, however we have clear targets for improvements to the overall quality of teaching that have progressive milestones from term to term with clear monitoring and validation procedures. These are set out in the plan.

I have posted an example of a section of the plan - Post-Ofsted Action Plan

Staff, especially in the core subjects of English and Mathematics, have been jointly planning a new curriculum for September 2015 to address the needs of challenge and differentiation, the requirements of the new GCSEs and national curriculum and the new length of lessons to provide for depth and progress in learning. Planning has also involved a new college curriculum share and timetable within the constraints of a reducing budget.

Restructuring and monitoring of staff has contributed to improving effectiveness and to some moving on. We have also been recruiting staff and managing and developing changes in leadership of teaching and support to teaching.

Our next visit from HMI will be in the first autumn term when the team will further review the plan and evaluate its impact to date.

I will endeavour to keep you informed of developments and progress. Watch out for two key communications before the end of term; a newsletter summarising the many successes and achievements of this last year and a new development - our ‘talking prospectus’, involving many of our wonderful students.

I thank you for your continued support. Working in partnership within our Co-operative values driven philosophy will ensure we provide the best all round education for our children.