Theme of the week is: Risk
It's that time of year when students, staff and parents alike are all feeling the pressure. There are coursework and controlled assessment deadlines looming, revision timetables to be followed and the countdown to exams is well underway. On a day to day basis it is sometimes quite hard to see beyond the immediate pressures of academic expectations and so it was a really fantastic opportunity to be able to celebrate FCC winning the School Award at the Oxfordshire Apprenticeship Awards this week. I was so proud to share this news with staff in our weekly briefing and have the chance to recognise the excellent work done by our Careers Advisor, Tina Belcher. The trophy received is a visual reminder that although there is always a big focus on helping our students achieve their full potential academically, we do recognise and really value other routes to success post 16 and 18 and Tina and the Sixth Form team do a great job in raising the profiles of apprenticeships and the world of work.
The challenges of education and teaching have been in the news a lot recently and at FCC we have been disappointed by the government's announcements about funding for schools. I am working hard with my senior team, the governors and the Academy to wrestle with reduced funding and yet still be able to provide a top quality education for our students with fewer resources at our disposal. The Education Policy Institute has estimated that average losses will reach £291,000 for secondary schools by 2019-20 and our own projections would support this research. Clearly, FCC is facing the same kind of problems experienced on a national scale but it's impossible to put a value on the worth of a great teaching staff and we are being forced to use every bit of ingenuity and creativity in order to find the best solutions to these issues. However, I remain confident that we will always put our students' needs at the centre of any decisions to be made.
Although I spend a lot of my time working with students and staff with the primary aim of establishing ways to ensure that every student achieves their academic potential, it was really refreshing this week to be able to celebrate sporting endeavour. Phil Rees joined us in September as Head of PE and he and his team have already created many new opportunities for students in a variety of different sporting activities. FCC are participating in an increasing number of fixtures and there is increased student engagement across all year groups. Participating in physical activity has so many benefits - such as developing resilience and building teamwork skills. These are invaluable characteristics that help us to improve our performance in other areas too, whether that be schoolwork or our relationships with others. My own experiences on the golf course have helped me to work on my skills of perseverance and patience - sometimes more successfully than others! This week it was particularly satisfying to see the PE department have so much to celebrate. The boys' U14 rugby team secured a decisive victory over local rivals, KA's. Furthermore, our girls' U13 basketball team won their Oxfordshire league game by 10 points. However, our growing sporting ethos extends beyond competing and this week, the FCC female sports leaders ran and officiated at a massive netball tournament which was attended by over eighty primary students. This fantastic opportunity was a great example of the benefits of academy students working together and sharing the fun and benefits to be gained from participating in sport. I am really looking forward to watching many home grown sporting talents develop over the rest of this year.
I've had the time of my life...at the FCC production, 'Back to the 80s'. Hours and hours of hard work and endeavour paid off in a feel-good musical masterpiece which introduced the sounds, fashions and cultural references to a new generation and provided a trip down memory lane for many of the audience - some of whom were students here at FCC in the 80s! It was really heartening to see so many students involved, from across all year groups, singing, dancing, playing in the band, running the sound and lighting and working with a wide selection of staff behind the scenes with set design, hair and make up and front of house duties. The experience was really uplifting. Congratulations and thank you to all of the talented and committed students and staff who were involved and thank you too, to parents and friends who supported by buying tickets and being such an appreciative audience.
Seeing so many faces from the past return to FCC to see the production made me reflect again on what an important role the school has to play within the Faringdon community. We are lucky that the school is situated in landscaped grounds on an open site which creates a welcoming atmosphere. However, that advantage brings with it certain challenges and staff are always mindful that the students' welfare and safeguarding issues should be treated with utmost seriousness. We recently underwent an Oxfordshire County Council safeguarding audit and the Local Authority Designated Officer has given us very positive initial feedback. It is reassuring to know that we have a range of effective practices in place, although we are constantly looking for ways to improve. We always welcome visitors to the school and so if you do visit us, please make your way to the main reception where you will be greeted by our reception team of Mel and Tara, who will be happy to take your details and issue you with the mandatory visitor badge whilst you wait for another member of staff to join you.
Whilst I enjoyed a break over half term many FCC students and teachers spent a lot of their time – day and night – working hard on the final rehearsals for this year’s school production, “Back to the 80s”. I have been so impressed by the energy levels demonstrated by those involved with the drama, music, lighting and set design. The show has really improved over the past few weeks and is now looking polished and bound to be a fun-filled extravaganza! Although we are justly proud of our academic achievements at FCC, it is equally important to find time to nurture and celebrate our students’ creative talents and I am very grateful for the inspiring work that Miss Nichols’ teams have done.
The school has a history of playing an active role in the local community and as the visible signs of Faringdon's growth continue to appear all around us, I have been excited to be involved in the pre-planning stages for a new building which will extend our capacity. This has been promised to us for a long time now and we are very much hoping that this time we will see a successful outcome of the proposals. It is all the more cheering in light of the more challenging national picture regarding schools and education. Only this week an education select committee published the findings of its teacher recruitment and retention inquiry which found the government lacks a long-term plan to address teacher shortages and warned that rising pupil numbers at secondary level would worsen the recruitment situation. I feel optimistic that at Faringdon we are currently well staffed and that a potential state-of-the-art classroom block will make us an even more attractive prospect for students, parents and staff alike.
Reflecting upon the week just gone, one of the stand out events was the Year 7 RE trip to the Hindu mandir in Wembley, London. It was a wonderful opportunity for me to leave the school grounds and see our students conduct themselves with maturity, interest and respect in a very unfamiliar setting. Our RE department have run this trip for several years now and it is a really important opportunity for our students to experience and develop their knowledge and understanding of a very different culture's traditions and values.
I was delighted to attend year group assemblies all week and join the students in the theme of 'celebration'. This was marked by the handing out of over 200 badges to acknowledge 100% attendance. Any student who achieves this deserves recognition and reward and I am also very grateful for parents and carers' support to help this happen too! Many studies have shown that there is an indisputable link between high attendance and achievement at school. For example, in February 2015, a Department for Education report noted that for KS4 students, "Specifically, pupils with no absence are 1.5 times more likely to achieve 5+ GCSEs A*-C or equivalent and 2.8 times more likely to achieve 5+ GCSEs A*-C or equivalent including English and mathematics than pupils missing 15-20% of KS4 lessons." Reason enough to encourage students to strive to have the best possible attendance.
I also enjoyed meeting many Year 10 parents and students at the very well attended Year 10 Parents' Evening and it was pleasing to hear about individuals' progress across a wide range of their GCSE subjects. I know that Miss Wheeler, Year 10's Head of Year, is always keen to find out about her students' successes out of school too, so please do keep us informed of any other accomplishments so that we can celebrate these too.
Looking forward - whilst many of the staff and students will be enjoying a break over the February half term, I know that Miss Nichols and Miss Whenray will be hard at work with over 100 cast members, putting the finishing touches to this year's school production, "Back to the 80s". I've got my ticket and whilst I may not be wearing neon leg warmers to the production myself I can guarantee that the event will be a real visual and musical trip down memory lane for some of us! Do buy your tickets from Parentpay as soon as possible!
Finally, I am delighted to announce that we have also recruited two new Physics and English members of staff for the start of the new academic year. Recruitment of staff is tough at the moment and we are so pleased to have secured two very enthusiastic and committed teachers to join the FCC staff. I am sure that they will fit right in!