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Friday, January 27, 2017

New Year, New Developments and Resolutions

Happy New Year to one and all! I hope those of you who have made resolutions are demonstrating strong will power, resilience and persistence. Are you? Apparently the top 10 resolutions are to:

1.     Lose weight
2.     Get organised
3.     Spend less and save more
4.     Enjoy life to the fullest
5.     Stay fit and healthy
6.     Learn something new
7.     Quit smoking
8.     Help others achieve theirs dreams
9.     Fall in love
10.  Spend more time with family

Some of these are definitely on my personal list and so far I am trying, though the tub of remaining Christmas chocolates is a big temptation.

According to a BUPA poll around half of us stick to our New Year’s resolutions for less than a month. This leads me to share with you the continuing changes and developments at Sir Thomas Wharton starting with a new set of criteria for the ‘Successful Habits of a Sir Thomas Wharton Learner’. This is based on PRIDE and a significant element of this is developing learning traits such as resilience, perseverance, cooperation, learning from failure and never giving up.

PRIDE will be at the centre of a new 1-4 grading for Engagement in Learning in our reporting system and will be introduced with years seven and eight in the next tracking report available to parents. In response to feedback from evaluations, parents will have access to tracking data prior to the next Learning Review Day on Monday 6 February 2017.

The PRIDE acronym actually stands for a Prepared Learner, Responsible Learner, Interested Learner, Determined Learner and Emotionally Aware Learner.

This development of successful learning habits has been created in collaboration with one of our former students, Mr Kevin Mincher, whose organisation Unstoppable Teen is currently working with students from across all years on a range of motivational projects. There will be more to follow on this in the coming weeks.

Leaders at Sir Thomas Wharton are committed to securing purposeful partnerships with parents, staff, governors, local community groups and broader business partners to deliver the very best for every young person in our Academy.

Our improvement agenda and drive to be an outstanding school has gathered a momentum since September. I would like to take this opportunity to share with you a number of the recent developments at Sir Thomas Wharton that are focused on rapidly raising standards of achievement for all learners.

Our consultation on joining Maltby Learning Trust is complete and this has been approved in principle by the Department for Education. Answers to frequently asked questions raised by parents and the community can be found on the Parent Voice page of the website. Our expected target date for transfer is now 1st March 2017.

When we transfer from the Co-operative Trust to the Maltby Learning Trust we will effectively become a new re-brokered school. As such, the name of our school will change, but not significantly.  We will lose the current lengthy title and will become known as Sir Thomas Wharton Academy.

Being part of Maltby Learning Trust will bring many beneficial changes and indeed is already doing so. Mr Sutton, the CEO and Executive Principal from Maltby, has been working closely with the school over recent months to add additional leadership capacity and initiate strategies that will support our improvement agenda. Many of the strategies implemented have been proven to work in other settings and have helped Maltby Academy be recognised as a highly effective school and designated as an approved school sponsor by the Department for Education.

Our focus for improvement over recent months has been in three key areas:

1.     ‘Securing clear assessment criteria’ linked to the reformed GCSE and A Level curriculum. Leaders from Sir Thomas Wharton and Maltby have worked together on creating assessment grids that provide clear success criteria for the new 1-9 GCSE bands. This directly links to planning and providing teaching and classroom intervention that closes gaps in knowledge, skills and understanding to help all students make good progress.

2.     ‘Developing high quality teaching and learning’ through sharing expertise and resources. Maltby Academy has an excellent track record of highly effective teaching and learning. Staff across both academies, in respective subjects, are working collaboratively, sharing learning resources and shaping professional development to support teaching in the classroom. You may have noticed ‘long term plans’ appearing in your child’s exercise books. These have been created to help students and parents know exactly where they are in their course of study. (NB. These are also available on the website in the curriculum section.) Leaders and governors continue working across the two schools to build additional capacity in key specialist areas and to secure improvements in provision and outcomes. Working together in one Trust we have greater opportunity to recruit and retain high quality staff.

3.     ‘Providing a relevant and engaging curriculum’ that secures positive progression routes from Y7 to Y13 and beyond into Further/Higher Education or training and prepares our young people for employment. As part of this we are introducing a three year Key Stage 4 curriculum for all students at Sir Thomas Wharton. The impact of this is that students in both Year 8 and 9 will make their GCSE options later this term. Parents and students will receive further information about this in the coming weeks.

Working in collaboration with Maltby Academy, we will be able to offer a wider range of both Level 2 and Level 3 vocational qualifications in key stage 5 this year. The Government’s latest announcement is focused on providing a growth in vocational and technical qualifications to fill the identified skills gap in the country. We will continue to work closely with businesses and local employers through our association with Doncaster Chamber of Commerce and their education and skills academy to better prepare our young people for that transition into employment. The government are keen to promote progression routes directly into work related training or Higher Education through the introduction of more robust vocational qualifications that can complement the traditional A Level courses.

Over recent weeks Year 11 students, from both Maltby and Sir Thomas Wharton, have been accessing the Post 16 environment and courses at each of our respective schools. One of the significant benefits to our new partnership is the ability to offer a broad range of Level 2 and Level 3 courses in a collaborative Sixth Form. Geographically, Maltby is the closest secondary school to Sir Thomas Wharton and will be easy to access via a college shuttle bus service. From September post 16 students from each organisation will have the opportunity to study across our two sites and select courses that best suit their preferred progression route.

In order to offer a collaborative curriculum at both Maltby and Sir Thomas Wharton, it will be necessary to align our school days and lesson timings. This is particularly important for the delivery of the Post 16 curriculum and to enable us to transport students between the two sites. The new school day will consist of 5 x 1hour lessons with tutor period at the start of the day. Changes to the actual start and finish times are still being considered and will be communicated at a later stage. The aligning of our school days will allow joint staff development and student enrichment programmes after school.

Our students will hear more about the planned changes during assemblies in the week commencing 30 January and have opportunity to ask questions and seek clarification through the student voice council.

Parents and carers will have an opportunity to hear more about our proposed changes and ask relevant questions at the Parent Voice meeting on Tuesday 7 February.

During that same week, I hope you will take the opportunity to join the audience at our latest big musical production – Chicago. Tickets are on sale now for the evening performances on Thursday 9th and Friday 10th February. I have seen the rehearsals and I know you will be astounded and entertained by the talented performers on stage.

Providing outstanding teaching and learning to secure every student with a suite of good and appropriate qualifications, is at the heart of our purpose. However, as our motto ‘Learning for Life, Succeeding Together’ promotes, we also believe in a rounded education that develops personal qualities, resilience and competencies to make our young people not only employable but lead a healthy, successful and fulfilled life. As we progress towards the summer we will be launching our ‘Student Pledges’, an awarding system for successful engagement in a range of different life experiences, all contributing to ‘Learning for Life’. Each pledge will be an entitlement, for example like the cast of Chicago, an opportunity to perform on a stage, or take a lead in a community based activity.

Returning to that top 10 list of resolutions; several of them should not just be resolutions but are actually values central to an outstanding education and life. We want our children to ‘live life to the fullest’, taking advantage of every opportunity available to them. We want them to ‘learn something new’ every day, in every lesson and through the enrichment and extra-curricular opportunities on offer. We want to help them ‘achieve their dreams’, giving them the belief, confidence and support to be successful in whatever they choose to do.

I thank you for taking the time to read this latest blog. I will continue to keep you informed as future developments are secured with Maltby Learning Trust and our wider partners across Doncaster. These are exciting times to be a student and member of staff at Sir Thomas Wharton.