Theme of the week is: types of relationships
Welcome to my blog page. Here you can find a bit more information about what is happening behind the scenes at FCC, and get a flavour of what we are about!
My blogs from 2016-2017 are available here.
Week 18 – new build, exams and staff training
I spoke with a parent, a governor and a teacher on Friday and they were looking forward to reading this week’s blog. I didn’t realise I had so many followers!!
There has been a lot in the news recently about the wide-reaching implications of the collapse of the firm Carillion but fortunately this doesn’t involve us at FCC. I am relieved that Kier, our contractors who are constructing our new teaching block, have been making good progress with the building work. My understanding is that they are still on track to have it completed by the deadline date and this is despite recent adverse weather conditions. I have arranged with Neil Thompson, Keir’s Project Manager to visit the site on a weekly basis with some staff and students. On 19th January the first of these visits took place, with two staff, Ms Nicholls, Ms Whenray and four year 7 students, Alex, Zac, Charlie and Leo. The photos, with everyone kitted out with PPE will be in next week’s newsletter. I wish I could bottle the excitement that the visit generated amongst the staff and students. Although not every student will be able to visit the site during construction, my intention is for them to at least be considered by putting their names forward and drawing them out.
The 6th form students took their mock exams this week and I hope that throughout the rest of the school year they are able to build upon their successes and learn from the experience in preparation for their public exams.
Whilst the 6th Formers were working hard on their exams, many of our Year 11s participated in 6th Form taster days. These are a really valuable opportunity for the students to experience what it is like to be a 6th Former at FCC. They were able to wear their own clothes, used the 6th Form Common Room and attended A Level style classes. Hopefully many of our Year 11s have been inspired by their experiences and now have a clearer idea of which A Level subjects they would like to study. Having a clear next step in mind is a good way of improving motivation and this should therefore help them strive to fulfil their potential in their GCSE studies.
This week all teaching staff attended a twilight INSET session after school on Wednesday. The INSET is one of many throughout the academic year and these are really important interventions to allow staff the time to advance their own professional development and improve their teaching practice. At this session Miss Kitching and Miss Malik from the English department described and explained a broad range of measures that are being used to help students in English make progress. This was followed by a session from Mrs Viner and Ms Nichols on strategies for supporting students. Having a dedicated time to learn from each other is invaluable and I am grateful for those staff who presented. The feedback from all the staff was positive and they clearly found the sessions worthwhile.
Week 17 - New beginnings
January 2018 - a new year for new beginnings, new faces, new resolutions and new ventures. A return to school on a Thursday meant that Term 3 started gradually for FCC students and staff, allowing for some re-acclimatisation before the first full week back. Whilst there will be many new things happening over the next few weeks, the term actually started with the return of some old faces. We held the 6th Form Presentation Evening on Thursday 4th January and we were delighted to welcome back a very high percentage of the Year 13 Leavers of 2017. Mrs Button and her team presided over a new format which provided the opportunity for ex-students and parents to be seated around candlelit tables in the hall for the awards and this provided a successful celebratory atmosphere. In addition to catching up with students and hearing about their first few months at university, in apprenticeships or at work, we were also able to hand out a number of special subject awards, present Mrs Galliford with an outstanding teacher award and Mr Butler with the inaugural, life time service award.
This week has been busy. The Year 11s have received their mock exam results at a specific evening event. My thanks to Miss Wheeler and Mr Bettle for organising such a well-attended and informative event. Whilst many students were understandably anxious about getting their results, the atmosphere seemed positive and many strategies are in place to help all Year 11s fulfil their potential. Some students may have been a little disappointed with their mock results but we would not expect them to reach their target grade 5 months before their exams. From our experience in recent years, students who have a revision timetable in place and regularly attend revision classes usually improve by a minimum of one grade from their mocks in the summer exams; with many improving by 2 grades.
We have also welcomed some new staff, including Mrs Lozano in Business Studies, and I hope that they have enjoyed the start of the year here at FCC.
For many of us, the new year often brings new resolutions to improve fitness levels and I am delighted that there are a variety of new ways for students and staff to do that at FCC. Mr Rees continues to add to the wide range of sporting clubs and FCC now has its very own parkrun event every Wednesday afternoon. In addition, some of the Year 7s and 11s are participating in weekly yoga and mindfulness sessions.
My reoccurring resolution is - to reduce my golf handicap, which was given a boost over the holidays when I achieved a hole-in-one at my local course. I know that to lower my handicap all I have to do is practise, practise and practise. Ironically a message we often give to the students!!
Week 14 – Snow!
Heavy snowfall on Sunday created a winter wonderland up at the school site but also meant that there were many potential health and safety issues too. After taking advice from local staff, our caretaking team and reviewing the weather forecast I made the decision on Sunday evening that the school should be shut on Monday. We were able to get this message out to staff, students and parents via the school website and by using the Parent Pay messaging service and hopefully this reduced inconvenience and confusion.
I was very grateful to the small number of staff and two Sixth Formers who were still able to make it to FCC on Monday morning and, working as a team, we were able to clear and grit all the main paths around the school site which gave me the confidence to reopen the school for the following day. Although journeys in were still difficult for many and one bus service was cancelled, for most, the school operated fairly close to normal on Tuesday. The snow did disrupt the Year 11 mock timetable and I have been impressed by the students’ resilience and adaptability. It has been a long term and having a densely packed schedule of exams at the end of it is not fun for either the students or the teachers who have to mark the scripts and it is to everybody’s credit that extra amounts of energy and perseverance are being found to carry us through to the end of term.
Whilst rules on footwear were relaxed slightly this week in light of the weather conditions it is absolutely essential that all students return in January in correct, full school uniform. Black shoes, navy blue socks or tights, tailored blue trousers or skirts and a school blazer should be worn by all students. We will reinforce this message at the beginning of the year in assemblies and tutor time.
This is my last blog this term and I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for all the support you give to make Faringdon Community College such a great school. Can I also wish you all a very happy and relaxing Christmas.
Week 13 – Presentation Evening
It was wonderful to welcome back our Year 11 leavers this week for the annual Presentation Evening. This was the opportunity for those who had sat their GCSEs this summer to collect their certificates and bring their KS4 education to an official end. It was also a chance for the students to catch up with each other and hear a summary of their Year 11 year which was read out by Luke and Deanna, the Head Boy and Girl. In addition, a large number of special subject specific awards were given out to individuals who were recognised for their exceptional achievements. Hearing the citations from each prize winning certificate is always an uplifting experience and it was notable to hear how many times sheer hard work and consistent effort was being recognised as the way to further success.
The evening itself was also punctuated by a variety of entertainment. The international students opened the night in spectacular style – attired in national dress, they greeted the audience in both English and their own languages. Miss Gammon’s choir did an excellent job in getting us into the festive mood with a spirited rendition of “Merry Christmas Everyone”, Dom performed a thought-provoking self-penned song and Seamus stunned the audience with a show stopping performance on the piano. I was really proud of all the performers who were prepared to give up their time for our enjoyment. Finally, the evening was an opportunity for Dave Wilson to present our outgoing governor, Bob Wintringham, with a silver plate as thanks and recognition for his incredible 30 years’ service on the board of governors, many as the chair. Thank you Bob!
Week 12 - post Barcelona
Watching the steady progress of the new building has been very exciting and Kier are doing a great job – trying to minimise disruption during school hours and even constructing a much needed overflow carpark for us. On returning from the Barcelona trip it was amazing how much the building had changed and at the update meeting last week it was encouraging to hear that the project is now two weeks ahead of schedule. Discussions with staff will be taking place over the coming months to decide which subject groups will be based in the new building so that our academy premises team can plan to equip the new classrooms appropriately. These are exciting times!
On a more day-to-day issue, the school field is now ‘out of bounds’ during the winter months. It is important we provide a variety of different activities for the students, at break and lunchtimes, particularly while space is limited for the duration of the building work. I am really grateful to Mr Rees and the PE department for organising so many lunchtime sporting activities in the leisure centre and gym. Mrs Ikeda and Mrs Randall have also transformed the library into a wonderful space for students to work, read for pleasure or use the ipads, and there are opportunities for board games on Fridays. Equally, the Special Needs department and the team of TAs provide a welcoming space for many students to meet together to chat or improve their literacy and numeracy skills in the S N rooms. There are also lunchtime revision sessions for Y11 students and I have been encouraged by seeing just how many students have taken up this opportunity in the week prior to the start of their mock exams. I am very lucky to have such committed staff who give their free time to support the students and the school.
I am always looking for new and creative ways to provide additional activities for the students and I have asked staff and students for their suggestions and would be very happy to investigate any practical suggestions. The boys have suggested footballs but hula hoops and skipping ropes have also been requested.
Week 11 - Trip to Spain
Whilst sitting on the plane home from Barcelona, having spent 5 days there on a languages trip, I said to one of my year 10 students “Izzie, you can help me with my blog?" To which she replied, “What’s it going to be about?” Then after a short pause she smiled and realised the focus of the blog..!
I’ve been really lucky to have had the opportunity to work with the languages' department and 35 Year 10 & 11 students in Barcelona. It was a super week which was very well led and organised by Ms Soto. Although the focus of the week was for the students to develop and broaden their language skills, like many school trips it has done so much more. One of the main activities was for groups of students to interview local Spaniards. At the beginning of the week the students found this task quite daunting but by Thursday they had fully embraced the idea and really enjoyed it. It was great to see the students grow in confidence and the interview activities were really successful in enabling them to recognise the progress that they were making in speaking Spanish. This was undoubtedly helped by the two hour long lessons they had in a language school on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
However, we managed to pack in many other activities; shopping in the famous Las Ramblas, a tour of the Sagrada Familia and the Nou Camp football stadium plus a visit to Parc Guell. Our students have been great and didn’t complain too much as we walked an average of 7 miles a day!
One of the funniest moments came after one of our evening meals. We were fortunate enough to have a flamenco dancer entertain us and she was supported by two of our year 11 boys, Tom and Marcus, who had the courage to volunteer themselves. Not to be out-done, Ms Soto, Mr Baker and Mrs Molloy then hit dance floor, much to the delight of the other students. Fortunately, we then had to leave and go back to the hostel, just before it was my turn. I don’t think I have ever been so pleased to return to my accommodation.
Taking 35 students on a plane, the metro, a service bus (if they could fit on one bus), or crossing the road is not an easy task but the staff were really thorough and professional throughout. I would like to say 'gracias' to all the staff - Ms Soto, Mr Baker and Mrs Molloy for making this such an enjoyable and rewarding trip and 'bien hecho' to all the students who were such excellent company throughout the week.
Week 10 - School funding
I recently attended the Oxfordshire Secondary School Headteachers' Association (OSSHTA) Conference which gave me the opportunity to find out about any new initiatives in schools, what’s good practice and what the national picture is in education. Sadly, the one thing which dominated conversation was funding and the new National Funding Formula. What is apparent is that schools in some parts of the country are finding their financial situation increasingly worrying and the introduction of the new funding formula, to take place from September 2018, has not addressed their concerns.
Under the new formula, and using the Department for Education’s own statistics, in 2018-19 the average funded primary school in Devon (400 pupils) will receive £407,200 less than the same size school in Greenwich. The average funded secondary school in Oxford (1400 pupils) will receive £4,050,200 less than the same size school in Hackney. It is extraordinary that some English secondary schools will receive 60% less funding than others of the same size.
Headteachers, teachers, students and their parents do not understand why every child has to sit the same Key Stage assessments or GCSEs while levels of capacity, resource and support are entirely different depending on where they live and where they go to school. We are lobbying our MPs to review the new formula and any extra pressure from parents would be appreciated.
On a more positive note I was able to share with the other headteachers the growing success of our Visible Leaders programme run by the 6th form and the impact it is having in the school. Staying on the positive theme I’m looking forward to accompanying over 30 students and 3 staff members on a languages trip to Barcelona next week and this will be the focus for my next blog.
Week 9 - Support for Year 11s
The intensity and pace of work is gradually and consistently increasing for our Year 11s. They all know how important this school year is for them in terms of making the most of every opportunity to consolidate knowledge and practise skills learnt so that come the summer exams, they are in the very best position to achieve their full potential. This can seem quite daunting and so it is often more helpful to view this year as a series of short sprints towards a specific goal, rather than a long marathon towards numerous exams and those all important GCSE, BTEC and VCert qualifications. With this in mind, the past couple of weeks have been about providing the students and their parents with as much information as possible to help them to raise their levels of motivation and empower them to tackle their workloads in as sustainable way as possible. Mr Bettle and Miss Wheeler and her Year 11 tutor team put on a very informative 'Strategies for Success' session to which all Year 11s and their parents/carers were invited. They were given advice on how to revise, how to manage time and stress levels and were provided with information about post 16 pathways. It was really interesting to hear the views of two current lower 6th form students, Wilf and Freya on how they prepared for their GCSE exams when they were in Year 11.There was a very positive vibe to the evening and Miss Wheeler has shared the information on SMHW so that it can be referred to throughout the rest of the year.
The following week the Year 11s were given a taste of what life could be like in the Sixth Form at FCC. Mrs Button, Miss Armstrong, Kate Berwick and the 6th Form teaching staff organised a truly informative and inspiring evening. The evening had the highest turnout of recent years and whilst it was great to see so many of our Year 11s and their parents there, it was also encouraging to see a significant number of applicants from other schools. The buzz around the individual subject stalls was vibrant and engaging and our current Year 12s and 13s were all excellent ambassadors for the school.
Over the next couple of weeks our support for the Year 11s will continue. The second Citizenship and PSHE day will contain a 2 hour interactive workshop which will be delivered by an external provider and which will provide students with a range of specific study skills. These will then be used during personalised maths and English revision sessions at the end of the day so that students can see how the theory of study can be immediately applied to their own revision. Just prior to the mock exam period, we will be holding the Year 11 Parents' Evening so that staff can provide last minute subject specific advice and encourage the students to keep on putting in as much effort as possible to their studies. We do recognise that emotional wellbeing is a vital consideration at this time and therefore, in response to feedback, we are also putting on teen yoga sessions on Friday afternoons for Year 11s so that students can adopt practices to help them remain physically and mentally healthy.
Week 8 - learning outside of the classroom
It has been really inspiring this week, hearing from many of our Year 11s and Year 13s who are back in school after their respective trips to the battlefields and Uganda. Whilst organising and leading trips is time consuming, and not without its pressures for staff, the benefits for the students are varied but immeasurable. Our annual trip for Year 13s to Uganda - experiencing the hubbub of the capital Kampala, participating in safari trips, being thrilled whilst white water rafting and being entertained at a cultural evening - is always a huge recruitment draw for the FCC Sixth Form. However, the main reason the students go is to visit our partnership school - Kazo Hill - and witness first hand, the challenges facing the next generation of Ugandans in terms of obtaining a quality education. From the conversations that I have had with some of our students I know that many of them were fairly shocked by the poverty levels and the trip has certainly given them a new perspective on life.
Many of the Year 11s were also affected by the poignant scenes that they witnessed whilst on the battlefields trip. Learning about the circumstances leading up to, and the events of the two world wars is one thing in a classroom environment, when facts can be absorbed in a rather objective, clinical manner. However, the learning experience takes on a whole new meaning when surrounded by thousands of white headstones or standing deep in one of the original trenches. I believe that as a school we should provide as many different types of opportunity for students to be enthused by learning and make memories that will stay with them for life. These specific trips are two examples of doing just that. I am very grateful for the energy that Miss Dickenson, Mrs Green and Miss Armstrong and her team put into co-ordinating the trip itineraries and taking the students so far away so that their minds could be opened that bit further. Without staff like this, who are prepared to go the extra mile, our students simply would not have such a rich and inspiring learning experience.
I have always felt that it is important to acknowledge students doing the right thing and celebrate success, and so, every half term I lead assemblies for Years 7-11, during which I am able to publicly commend individuals for a whole variety of reasons. Term 1 has been busy and diverse and therefore, unsurprisingly, there has been a range of success stories. I have received a letter from a member of the public who wanted to let me know how polite and considerate FCC students have been on the service bus going to and from school. This news was particularly well received because there has been an increase in the use of the service bus by students through the county’s changes to their travel policy. Similarly to this, I received a letter from one of our neighbours who had only moved into the area fairly recently. I completely understand that living in close proximity to a secondary school may not be everyone's idea of an ideal location, location, location, but the author of this particular letter had nothing but positive things to say about the FCC students. They specifically identified how happy and cheerful many of our students are as they walk along Fernham Road!
My third and final letter that I shared during my assemblies was from another local resident who had visited the school for our Open Evening. I was very grateful that they had taken the time to write to commend the two students who had shown them around and who had been such excellent representatives of the school. I am sure that they reflect but a very small proportion of all the caring, considerate and positive things that so many of our students do on a daily basis and which sometimes go unnoticed.
My assemblies have concluded with a reference to the many students who have participated in a vast array of sporting activities this term. We have had many significant successes and each week our newsletter makes reference to specific students and teams and I am very grateful to the PE department for supporting and championing so much sporting endeavour. However, what is most important is that all students feel that they have the opportunity to participate in extra-curricular activities - be that sporting or part of the creative arts or one of the many diverse clubs that are on offer at school. I believe passionately in the importance of balancing academic work with the opportunity to relax and develop other interests and talents and I have been encouraging all students, across all year groups, to take time away from their studies so that they can develop as more rounded and physically and mentally healthier individuals.
With that in mind, I plan on playing a little golf myself over the half term break!
Week 6 – College in Action
This week has been busy as we have opened our doors to Year 6 students and their parents, every morning from 9.30-11.00am. We do this because we are proud of what goes on, on a day-to-day basis at FCC. Whilst Open Evenings are all very well and are an important part of the secondary school selection process, these can often be slightly over-glamourized events. What we believe is even more important is having the confidence to welcome parents and their children into the school during usual working hours – to see the school as it runs in every day scenarios. I know that not every school nationally would want to or could do this and so it is with great pride that we can offer such an opportunity.
When parents first arrived they spent about 20 minutes talking informally to the tutor group, 7HM, who were great ambassadors for FCC. I was really impressed with these students who, although they have not been at the school for more than five weeks, were able to confidently and enthusiastically talk about their experiences and feelings as FCC students. The morning concluded with the main event – a tour around the school site. No two tours are ever the same and over the course of the week I have been into the whole range of curricular subjects on offer at FCC. This is one of the greatest privileges of my job – to be able to witness the high quality of teaching that goes on hour after hour, day after day across so many subjects. I have seen students undertaking experiments in science, trampolining in PE with Y7 boys and an analysis and deeper understanding of Macbeth in Year 11, plus much more. The behaviour of all our students was excellent throughout the tours and the visiting parents were really complimentary about the whole experience.
Week 5 - Open Events
Whilst we have only been back for a few weeks our minds have already turned to opening the school to prospective new year 7s and their parents. I was very proud of how smart the school looked on Thursday night when we welcomed many parents and students to our Open Evening. It was good to be able to talk to so many Year 6s and hear about how much they had already enjoyed their day at FCC over the course of the past fortnight. Deputy Head, Joe Winter and Safeguarding and Admissions Administrator, Sharon Talbot, do a fantastic job in organising and leading these days which gives all our partnership schools the opportunity to send their Year 6’s to us so that they can better understand what life is like in a busy secondary school. This makes sure that their important secondary school decision making process is even better informed.
During the night of the Open Evening I spent much of the time touring the school. This meant that I could chat to as many parents and students as possible and it also enabled me to experience the energy and enthusiasm my staff have for their subjects, there was a really positive buzz around the school. What was really encouraging was the involvement of our current students, with 185 staying late to help out with demonstrations in areas such as DT, PE and the performing arts.
Whilst the Open Evening itself is an excellent chance for parents to meet many of our Year 7s, talk to staff in the different departments, receive our school prospectus and participate in the subject challenges, the College in Action week next week also provides parents and year 6s the opportunity to see FCC at work during school hours. We’ve had over 150 people sign up for ‘College in Action’ tours, so we have a busy week ahead.
Week 4 - New Build
This week was really significant in the history of FCC! After several years of, numerous meetings, amended proposals and re-drafted plans, ground was finally broken for our new building. We are hoping that by September 2018 we will be able to use some of the state-of-the-art three storey block and by Christmas 2018 all classrooms, cafe area and break out spaces will be fully operational. However, as with all grand designs, nothing is ever certain and so we are hoping for clement weather over the next year and no unexpected archaeological discoveries! Whilst the new building will bring much needed additional space to the rapidly expanding numbers of staff and students at FCC, the present situation is more challenging. Car parking is at a premium due to the building works and I am very grateful for the co-operation of the staff and 6th Formers who are car sharing or finding alternative parking locations. I am always mindful that we need to be a good neighbour to the local residents and am aware that, in the short term at least, there will be additional congestion on the school's access roads. However, I am confident that once the work has been completed, FCC will be able to offer the school and the wider community even better facilities which will bring secondary benefits to those who live close to the school site.
Whilst it has been exciting to see the arrival of diggers and equipment we are also working around contractors who are installing a completely new roofing system on the DT block. Additionally, the Academy Team have secured funding for new windows in the maths and art block which will help with insulation and sound proofing.
Adapting school life to accommodate such significant building works has certainly been a challenge and has added to the diversity of my job! However, things have been made much easier by the tireless support of the school's caretakers - Steph and Jason - who really are unsung heroes in terms of keeping the school in a fit for purpose state. Furthermore, I have been extremely impressed by all of the students' attitude towards the changes to the fabric of the school and their co-operation in keeping away from the building site boundaries.
Week 3 - Citizenship and PSHE
This week saw our first Citizenship and PSHE Day of the new school year. We place a lot of importance on giving students the time, space and resources to explore really important themes such as health and wellbeing, financial management and British values. By suspending the usual school timetable for one day at a time it enables staff and students to really immerse themselves in the concepts and thus raises the profile of these vital life skills and issues.
This year many activities during the day linked together to enable students to work towards specific tutor group challenges which earned the winners points towards the overall award at the end of the year. Our Year 7s spent the day discussing aspects of student leadership and the organisation of the school community and worked to produce welcome information leaflets which will be used at our Open Evening on 5th October and during the subsequent College in Action event the following week. The Year 8s expanded their horizons beyond the school and developed their political knowledge and understanding with tutor groups competing against each other to create manifestos for how they would like the UK to tackle issues such as the environment and defence.
Meanwhile, our Year 13s used the day to prepare for their post-18 pathways, with the majority writing their personal statements for UCAS applications, or investigating apprenticeship opportunities. The Year 12s spent the day at Gloucester University, getting a taste of student life!
The day was also an excellent opportunity for the Year 11s to learn some essential techniques to skill them up to be as successful as possible leading up to their GCSE exams. We are very conscious that whilst putting as much effort as possible into lessons is a crucial part of academic success, if this is not balanced by a sensible approach to relaxation and personal organisation, it is harder to achieve the best outcomes. Therefore, the students participated in 'meditation' and 'breathing for relaxation' sessions, in addition to time management and study skills workshops.
Week 1: Welcome back
Despite the rather dreary weather in the UK for a lot of the six week summer break, the holiday provided a very welcome break for students and staff to rest and recharge their batteries. Two weeks before the start of the new term our Year 13 cohort of 2017 received their A Level grades and we were delighted that all of the students have further destinations - be that at university, on apprenticeship schemes or in employment. Over 40% of the year group have gained prized places at Russell Group universities and one student will be studying at Cambridge this year. The following week saw the release of the GCSE grades and it is always an emotional time to witness the Year 11s returning to pick up their results' envelopes. There were many individual success stories and it was heartwarming to see the pride and joy in students and parents' faces when they discovered that all the hard work and stress had been worth it.
However, with the arrival of the new Year 7 and 12 cohort on Tuesday and the return of the rest of the school on Wednesday this week, all of the excitement of the summer now seems a long way away! It has been fantastic to see how well the Year 7s have adapted to life at secondary school and I am grateful to Mr Jukes and his Year 7 team who have worked with the SEN department and Year 9 mentors, to make sure that the transition has been as smooth as possible. The Sixth Form have immersed themselves into school life quickly too. Many have already volunteered to be visible leaders - supporting staff within departments, running sports clubs and mentoring more vulnerable students.
We are, once again, a very busy place indeed! We have almost capacity student numbers across the year groups, we are fully staffed and we are hosting various contractors who have been constructing essential new classrooms and are carrying out vital maintenance work. It has been a hectic but very good natured first week back. I hope that the students are pleased to be back and look forward to what the rest of this term has in store for us all.