Theme of the week is: discrimination
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 27 - collaboration and communication
The last four days before we broke up for the Easter holidays were busy ones. The theme for the week was ‘Celebration’ and this gave me the opportunity to present nearly150 badges to students from Y7-Y11. This term, students were nominated by staff for attainment in all subjects. I believe that it is really important to acknowledge success and the badges are an important part of our rewards system. The next time the Year 11s are recognised for their efforts will be in the form of an exam certificate.
We had a very well attended Year 8 Parents' Evening on Wednesday night. It is essential that staff, parents and students meet to discuss achievement and explore ways in which further progress can be made. Mr Winter and Mrs Talbot do a great job in setting up these evenings and it was good to see so many parents, carers and students there. We are getting close to having a 9 form entry and as the school continues to expand we may need to review how we organise these evenings.
At FCC we try to provide as wide a variety of communication methods as possible. Recently the English department ran an information evening for parents. Communicating how subjects are delivered, assessment requirements and the rationale for such decisions is a key way of ensuring that all interested parties are able to provide the most effective support for students. I am very grateful to the English staff who planned and ran the event.
So many FCC staff are currently going the extra mile and putting on revision sessions over the Easter holidays for GCSE and A Level students. These sessions will have been carefully planned and personalised to best meet the needs of the students. Furthermore, many of the activities run as part of the sessions will model study skill strategies that students can then adapt to use at home when they are doing their own independent study. To support these additional classroom based sessions, our weekly newsletters have been providing revision tips, Year 11 tutors have been showcasing weekly study skills and there is a wide range of revision support material available in the students' section of the school website and in the Year 11 part of the Show My Homework site.
The lunchtime visits to the new block continue to go well. Kier have made excellent progress with the work and despite the in weather continue to be two weeks ahead of schedule. The external part of the building is not changing a lot at the moment, but inside the building every level now has clearly defined classrooms. Ms Sanders and Mrs Aitken enjoyed their visit and it gave them an opportunity to plan where on the first floor their languages teachers will go.
Finally, a big ‘well done’ to all staff and Year 11s in the drama and PE departments who finished the term by showcasing their talents in moderated practical assessments. I have heard some very positive feedback from a PE moderator and I understand that the drama students put on some fantastic performances (ably supported by 6th Form Visible Leaders) at the theatre at Buscot.
Week 26 – Charity and Community Links
I thought that as we were in the middle of March our ‘snow days’ were over, how wrong can one be? When I arrived at 7am on Monday morning to check the school site there was quite a covering of snow and Jason, our assistant site manager was busy clearing the paths and thoroughfares. He did a great job in making the site safe and gritting all the key areas. Let’s hope we can look forward to sunnier times.
There are many different activities and opportunities for students in school and one occasion which provided these for students at FCC and the primary schools on Wednesday evening was the ‘Festival of Voices’. This is an event which is co-ordinated by Mrs Kenyon and was attended by nearly 350 parents with 200 students performing. Teaching staff and support staff worked hard in preparing all the students and Mrs Kenyon, as always, did a great job in uniting the schools in the community.
Our students are always encouraged to support charities and every year we raise several thousand pounds for worthy causes. The focus this week has been Sports Relief and our head of PE Mr Rees organised a ‘beep test’ activity at lunchtime, raising £200. Over 40 students and staff took part, with a large crowd supporting the runners. One of our 6th formers, Harry, came out on top, with the very competitive Mr Rees in second place. On Friday we had our first ‘non-uniform’ day for some time and students paid a £1 for the privilege. Our Head Boy, Luke, and some of the Senior Team of students also organised and ran an activities fete at lunchtime and we will have raised well over £1000 pounds for the charity. This was a fantastic example of students and staff collaborating for a worthy event.
The annual PTA Quiz, one of my most stressful, yet enjoyable times of the year was really well attended by staff, parents and students. The highlight of the evening was the involvement of our Y9 and Y10 Food students who prepared and cooked two delicious curries. These students did a super job and they glowed with pride when applauded by all the parents and staff. They were superbly led by Mrs Thomas, with the support of Mr Scott, Mrs Darko, Mrs Lewis and Mrs Pawson. The PTA did a great job in organising the event and we appreciate all their hard work in fund raising events throughout the year. There were nearly 90 people, young and old in the 17 quiz teams. Congratulations to all those who took part and a special well done to the three top teams, The Robins (1st), Grandma and the 5 Dwarves (2nd) and the Geeky Governors (3rd).
Week 25 - planning for the future
This week has been an important one for our Year 9s. Due to the postponement of the Year 9 Parents' Evening at the start of the month we were provided with the opportunity to experiment with a new approach. After consultation with the staff, we decided to provide parents and carers the chance to meet with subject teachers prior to the Options Evening. Usually parents are given time slots to see staff and all meetings take place in the hall but this time, parents and students were able to meet staff in a range of department bases around the school. Changing a tried and tested method can be problematic but from the feedback I have received from staff and parents it would seem that this alternative approach worked well. I have heard that students enjoyed the chance to show their parents around parts of the school and view wall displays of work and images of trips and activities. Equally, staff liked the more intimate nature of meeting parents and students within their teaching spaces. I am however mindful that there may have been weaknesses to this system and I would welcome feedback of a positive or constructive nature so that we can assess this different approach to Parents' Evenings.
The Options Evening part of the night was particularly important because this gave Mr Bettle the opportunity to explain the options process in greater detail. Departments could also showcase the attractions of their KS4 courses. I was delighted the evening was so well attended with over 75% of the year group there. Making informed choices about which subjects to study in Years 10-11 is very important and can be the first stage in a successful and fulfilling career. I am fortunate that I have so many experienced and enthusiastic staff who are so keen to champion their own subjects and know that many students do actually feel spoilt for choice. A nice problem to have! As a school, we are lucky in that we have the full-time services of Tina Belcher, who is our permanent student progression and careers co-ordinator. All Year 9 students have been reminded that if they need any further advice they should make an appointment to see her so that they can complete and return their options form by 29th March.
It’s been a really good week for the PE department as they have achieved the ‘PE Schools Mark Award’. This award acknowledges and recognises all the extra clubs and fixtures they organise and the high level of participation across all year groups in PE lessons. All the hard work from the PE staff is clearly paying off as our Y9 girls won every match against all the Vale schools in a recent netball competition. They will now represent the Vale in the county finals. Congratulations to the students and all the staff and parents who supported them.
Week 24 – Broadening student experience and leadership
With coursework deadlines and exam dates moving ever closer, it sometimes feels that the educational journey is only about levels and grades. In schools there often seems to be a relentless focus on testing, assessment cycles, data scrutiny and the justification of academic results. Striking the balance between gaining excellent academic outcomes and the successful personal development of young people is something my staff work hard at to achieve.
On the academic front at FCC we have a very well embedded system for making meaningful checks on students’ progress and a comprehensive method of monitoring results. This allows subject staff to work with students to identify specific ways that improvements could be made. We never want a child to get left behind when it comes to their education and using tests to assess knowledge, understanding and the application of skills learned is a well-established way of doing that. With the exams fast approaching, Year 11,12 & 13 students can seek advice and guidance from their tutors or subject teachers for support. We also have extra mentoring support in place for some students.
Recently, for student development and enrichment, Miss Gammon and a team of staff took many Year 8 students to watch ‘Hairspray’. Visiting the Bristol Hippodrome was a cultural experience in itself. Furthermore, experiencing the energy of a live musical developed the students’ appreciation of the arts whilst being educated through the plotline about the dangers of prejudice and the need for inclusion and acceptance. The following week Mrs Canniford will be taking another group of Year 8s to ‘The Big Pit’ to develop their understanding of primary industry. I am so grateful that I have a dedicated and imaginative staff who are able to take on the extra workload involved with trip leadership in order to enrich our students’ lives.
Another way in which students can grow as individuals within school is by taking on additional leadership roles. I am delighted that the student councils for each year group are so pro-active and that they are collaborating effectively with the school council. Empowering students to get involved with issues such as the provision of study spaces, the canteen menus and homework setting provides them with meaningful life experiences. There has also been an increase in student participation in school assemblies through the guidance of Mrs Viner. We regularly have students singing or playing an instrument or talking to whole year groups about the theme for the week. I am always really impressed by these students – it is no easy thing to stand up in front of your peers.
On a more routine front we had a fire drill this week and it never ceases to amaze me how we can get 1300 staff and pupils on the tennis courts and accounted for in 5 minutes. Staff and pupils know the routine well and this is always successfully led by Mr Winter.
Week 23 - Adapting to circumstances
I write this on an unexpected snow day! The hazardous conditions created by the collision of the 'Beast from the East' meeting Storm Emma from the south meant that I have spent a lot more time than usual scrutinising weather forecast websites. Deciding whether to keep a school open or close it, is complex and fraught with challenges. It is reassuring to have a couple of photographs sent to me today from our Business and Finance Director, John Banbrook, which show snow drifts of up to two feet in and around the site.
I never make the decision to close lightly because I know that there are many negative consequences of doing so - extra pressures for parents to organise childcare, missed teaching time and stock control concerns for the school canteen, etc. However, ultimately I always put the safety of the students and staff at the top of the list of considerations. On Thursday this week, my decision to close early was influenced by the fact that some of the school bus companies contacted the school to say that they wanted to leave school earlier to ensure safer homeward journeys for students. Ultimately I decided that it was important that students and staff should be able to leave, to get home to safety and warmth, before the snowfall worsened.
I was also keen to remove as much uncertainty as possible with regards plans for the following day. Based upon a variety of weather predictions and the advice of experts, I made the decision on Thursday night that the school would be closed on Friday. I hope that parents understand the reason for this and by being given prior warning, were able to make contingency plans as necessary.
Certainly technology makes communication a lot easier and being able to send information about closures to all parents registered on Parent Pay helped with this. Furthermore, we kept the school website updated with the decisions as they were made. Technology has also helped transform snow days to reduce the impact of missed classroom based teaching time. Staff have been able to use our Show My Homework service and a variety of tasks have been set so that students have been able to continue with their learning from home. Hopefully, this has meant that students were engaged with their learning and may have even developed their own independent study skills as they investigated topics on their own. An unexpected, positive, consequence of a snow day at home, maybe?
Week 22 – A focus on raising standards
The week’s half term break already seems a long time ago – such has been the pace of endeavour this week at FCC! The new build is rapidly starting to resemble a functional building and cladding is being attached to its outer shell. My weekly site visits are continuing and it is a really good opportunity for me to receive an update from the builders and help the accompanying students and staff envisage exactly what excellent facilities are being built for them. When I spoke with Neil, the site manager for Kier on Friday he was pleased that they were still approximately 2 weeks ahead of schedule.
This week the Year 12s and 13s have had a particular focus on taking stock and committing again to driving their own achievement forward. A representative from Cambridge University spoke to twenty-five Year 12s about applying to Russell Group universities and I hope that this has really raised their aspirations. The following night a very well attended Year 12 Parents’ Evening provided the opportunity for staff, students and parents to exchange information as to how to improve achievement within specific subjects. All the Sixth Form have now received their mock exam data and this should inspire and motivate students to design realistic revision plans to prepare in the most appropriate way for the AS and A Levels that will be starting in three months’ time.
Staff are spending time scrutinizing data for all key stages at the moment. Students are regularly assessed in a variety of ways across all subjects and the resultant grades, levels and progress indicators are then presented by Mr Bettle, the Assistant Headteacher for Standards, so that staff can help students celebrate progress and identify trends that may indicate areas for development. Collaborating on effective and appropriate interventions is a key strategy that staff at FCC employ to help ensure that all students know how they are doing, and even more importantly, are given ways to help them make further progress. There is a wealth of information provided in our weekly newsletter and on the school website which students and parents can use to help enhance independent study skills too.
Finally – some celebratory news. I would like to extend my congratulations to two members of staff for the birth of their babies over the half term break and hope that they thoroughly enjoy their maternity leave.
Week 21 – Hard work, cultural experiences and well-being
Due to an INSET day at the end of the week, this week has been shorter than usual but no less busy. The term has ended with a final push for the Year 11 students and they have worked incredibly hard to prepare for a second round of mock exams in maths and English. These subjects tend to receive a lot of focus because achievement in them forms a key school attainment measure. However, of even more significance is the fact that reaching a benchmark in literacy and numeracy are vital life skills and so, as educators we have a moral duty to ensure that our students complete their education at 16 with as good a grasp of maths and English as possible. We therefore took the decision that students would be better prepared for their final GCSEs in these core subjects if they could learn from their December mock experiences and then consolidate their learning and have a second opportunity to demonstrate their progress by taking a second round of mocks in maths and English in February. This obviously means that many English and maths teachers will be spending their half term break marking exam scripts but we are hopeful that this is a strategy that will pay off come the summer.
On a lighter note, Ms Gammon and a team of staff took a group of Year 9s to see the musical ‘School of Rock’ this week and I hear that they conducted themselves extremely well during the trip and seemed to thoroughly enjoy the experience. Taking trips out is expensive and time consuming but the rewards that an enriched cultural capital can then bring are immeasurable. I was also really pleased to hear that the students were encouraged to keep their phones in their bags during the coach journey and after initial queries of ‘But what are we supposed to do without our phones?’ students soon rediscovered the simple pleasures of having a real life conversation with each other!
The power of human connection and support was explored further as part of the staff training day on Friday. All teaching staff spent the day learning about the causes, symptoms and impacts of mental health issues. This had a dual focus – teenage and adult mental wellbeing. The sessions were well judged and included plenty of interactive opportunities and there seemed to be a really positive buzz about the event. I hope that as my very hard working and dedicated staff head off for their well-deserved week’s break, they are able to take some time out to reflect on some of the lessons learnt and think of ways to incorporate them into their working week upon their return.
Week 20 - Sporting success and PTA support
The blog was written last week but apologies as there appears to have been a glitch in the system and it was late being posted. I think the recent flu bug has affected more than just the staff and the students.
In the news this week the curriculum has been in focus, particularly how schools are cutting back and reducing the time students spend in creative arts lessons. This was based on a survey of 1200 schools. This is something we feel very strongly about. We will always aim to offer these subjects at FCC, not just because we feel it is important but also as we have some of our best results in these areas. It was a timely news article as on Citizenship Day this week Mr Bettle and Mr Butler talked at length to our Y9 students about possible options for Y10. They are at the early stages of putting together the timetables and staffing for September 2018 and it is important for us to gauge the views of the students.
Reading Elizabeth Burton Phillips’ book ‘Mum, can you lend me twenty quid?’ is a reminder to us all of the impact drugs and alcohol can have on the lives of everyone involved. It really is a very sad story and at times a difficult read. She has however taken a positive view and has spent a lot of her time sharing her experiences with parents and students, something she did with our Y11 students and their tutors on Friday. The students and staff were taken by her story and it clearly had an impact on them. She also spoke of the work of her charity Drugfam and how they support people impacted by alcohol and drugs misuse. I spoke to the students afterwards and they said they were impressed with her presentation and several students spent time talking to her about her work. She is currently in talks with a TV company who are looking to make her book into a film, we wish her well with this venture.
Mrs Kenyon took several students to a cross country competition this week and two have qualified to represent the county at the English trials in Leeds later in the year, with another on the reserve list. As Headteacher it’s always a proud moment when students represent us and even more pleasing when they are successful, congratulations to Charlie in Y11 who was placed in his age group and Katie in Y12 who won her age group impressively. Well done to those students and all those who represented FCC.
I met with the PTA on Friday and we discussed past and future fund raising events. They were really pleased with the support they had from the staff at the Y7 & Y8 disco before Christmas which made over £400. The next planned fund raiser is the School Quiz which is on Friday 23rd March, which still leaves me a few weeks to sort out the questions. The PTA do a great job in supporting us at FCC and with the funds raised they bought table tennis tables for the PE department and two picnic benches for the school grounds last year. On Friday they agreed to purchase a cooker for the DT department and folders for our school choir. They are all volunteers and their support is really appreciated.
Week 19 - trips: close to home and far away
In last week’s blog I mentioned the visits to the new building project and how we were opening up the opportunity to all staff and students. It has amazed me that so much interest has been generated. It may have been partly down to our site visit on Friday with Frede, Harvey, Georgia, Molly, Ms Soto and Ms Sanders all waving from the first floor above the safety rail, to the students in the rest of the school.
The Ski trip party had been off all week and with over 80 students from Y8 & 9. They had a great time and arrived back safely on Saturday morning. Mr Winter has been running these trips for 12 years now and his experience is invaluable. What amazes me is that when he returns he soon be sending out the information to students interested in the January 2019 Ski Trip.
Earlier in the academic year the English department introduced an initiative where staff displayed outside their classroom or office which book they were currently reading. This Friday we have an author in school, Elizabeth Burton Phillips. So I thought it appropriate to read her book ‘Mum, can you lend me twenty quid?’ In it she tells a powerful and moving story of drug misuse and the devastating impact this had on her family. She has given many talks in schools and colleges around the country and she will be talking with our Y11 students. She was awarded the MBE in the Queen’s 2017 honours list for her work in raising awareness of drug and alcohol misuse. We spend a lot of time focusing on examination results, which is important but these wider issues like drug and alcohol misuse need to be addressed. I’ll be interested in the feedback from the students on her visit and will follow this up in next week’s blog.
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.