Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Independent education - freedom to choose

Driving to visit another school yesterday, I heard an interesting discussion on Radio 4 based on a report from the new Head of Ofsted (the body responsible for inspecting state maintained schools) that too many state schools are not providing a good enough quality of education.  Click here for coverage in The Independent online.  His view is that local authorities should be ranked according to the performance of the schools in their area which raises a conundrum.  More than 50% of pupils in state secondary schools are now in Academies - schools allegedly independent of state control - and the discussion centred on the extent to which local authorities are responsible for their performance.  The discussion highlights the reality that Academies are not truly independent as they have to conform to central requirements and the views of their sponsors for most aspects of their educational provision as well as their funding.

The school I was visiting is Christ's Hospital where I was sharing views on education with colleagues in a very different setting to King's Rochester.  What we do share is true and genuine independence in forging the education which we believe to be right for our pupils.  It was an interesting day but what really made it for me after being stuck in traffic on a rain-lashed M25 was coming back to school to our Autumn concert where we were entertained with a repertoire from Handel to Jazz - a fitting analogy for the breadth of the independent sector.  Diversity united by quality.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

A pupil speaks about 'Luck'

We have a regular pattern of pupils giving an adress to the school.  They are always interesting and a great way of sharing ideas as well as giving excellent practice in public speaking.  This morning Anastasia, one of our Senior Prefects, gave a thought-provoking and interesting speech about 'Luck' which I thought would be good to share.

"When I see someone being able to stand proud in front of a vast crowd and address it with passion and confidence whilst simultaneously having a total control of their emotions and fears, it simply fascinates me! Great leaders such as Martin Luther King, Churchill, Kennedy, Obama were able to lift hearts in dark times, give hope in despair, refine the characters of men, inspire and give courage to the weary, honour the dead, and change the course of history by their motivational speeches. I often think of how lucky they were to be born as naturally gifted orators. But what is luck?

Over the summer I read an article about lucky people in which Dr Richard Wiseman, a British psychologist, shared his views on the concept of luck after 10 years of research. The results of his work revealed that people aren’t born lucky. Instead, fortunate people behave in a way that seems to create luck in their lives. Here are the four distinct features of such people:

  1. They notice opportunities that happen by chance more often than unlucky people. They are also more open to meeting new people and having new experiences.
  2. They tend to make good decisions by listening to their intuition.
  3. They are optimists and are certain that the future is going to be full of good luck. This positive attitude often makes good things happen.
  4. They are also good at coping with bad luck and often cheer themselves up by imagining things could be worse than they are.  
Therefore, don’t be afraid to allow yourself to encounter new discoveries. And of course if you are challenged by making a speech in from of a class – use your fear to drive you forwards, and allow you to enjoy your new leadership skill. Life is a struggle, accept it. Life is a tragedy, confront it. Life is an adventure, dare it. Life is luck, make it. Life is too precious, do not destroy it. Life is life, fight for it.

To conclude, I urge you to take note of what one sage used to say - “Good luck is often with the man who doesn't include it in his plans”.

-Recognise your OPPORTUNITIES
-Trust your INTUITION
-Be POSITIVE, especially when things are going wrong

And, by the way, GOOD LUCK to you!"

Monday, 12 November 2012

Farewell to exams in January

On Friday, Ofqual (the body which regulates exams) announced that after this academic year there will no longer be any AS or A2 (A Level) exams sat in January.  A little bit of history has been made, or perhaps revisited, as January exams have been part of the educational landscape since the introduction of AS and A2 Levels in the year 2000.  The big move back then was to split the old A Level course with exams sat at the end of two years of study into two halves.  AS exams sat in the Lower Sixth and A2 exams in the Upper Sixth are currently together to form the A Level.

As a result, schools were able to enter pupils to sit papers not just in the summer but also in January.  This allowed some pupils to take papers early in the year, thereby potentially reducing the number of papers to be sat in the summer.  It also enabled pupils to re-sit papers to improve their results over time.  It is easy to see why this option seems attractive, especially with the pressure on the best possible grades to secure entrance to university.  However, we had a brief discussion about this at a Head of Department's meeting at King's this evening and their unanimous view was that this was a good thing and I am in total agreement with them.

The option of re-sitting papers may seem like a good thing, especially if a pupil has a bad day and 'catches a piano'.  However, it arguably creates even greater pressure on pupils who may think, 'What if  I managed to bump up a few extra marks'.  To re-sit a paper six months later requires decent preparation which will inevitably intrude into other work and I have seen in other schools how some pupils do not put enough effort into the first sitting because of the option of re-taking later.  The worst case scenario is the paper sat in January of the Lower Sixth, then re-sat in the summer, again in the January of the Upper Sixth and once more in the summer.  In addition, the January papers are spread over a three week period and the loss of pupils from the classroom has a negative effect on the teacher's ability to keep the class moving forwards.

For sure there will be a transition period during which some may feel that opportunities have been taken away.  However, our pupils are the most over-examined in the world and I am fond of the adage that, 'if you want to know how well your carrots are growing it doesn't help to keep pulling them up to have a look'.  It will be good to get January back for teaching rather than a piecemeal period of disrupted lessons and that will ultimately be better for the pupils.

Saturday, 10 November 2012


Tomorrow is Remembrance Sunday and this week has seen our Prep and Senior School's acts of remembrance.  Set in the Cathedral they centre around calling to mind those who have given their lives in the service of their country and in particular former pupils of King's; a central act being the reading aloud of all of their names before wreaths are laid.  For the Prep School this took place in their cathedral service on Tuesday and for the Senior School there was a special service on Friday morning when we were joined by parents and Old Roffensians.  On Thursday, the Headmaster of the Senior gave a poignant address focussing on one name in particular who was killed during the battle for Arnhem in the Second World War.  Hearing the list of names read out is poignant in itself, not least because of how many ORs died in the First and Second World Wars, but to hold in mind one person in particular and his career at the school reinforced the reality of the people behind the names on our school memorials.

At the end of the service on Friday, the whole school processed through the Lady Chapel where our memorial is sited and wreaths laid.  One by one, the took their own poppy and laid them alongside the wreaths as a personal act of remembrance.  It was an incredibly moving experience and one which has a great impact on our pupils.  The cold clouds at the start of the day were later replaced with autumn sunshine on the cathedral and castle, lending a positive feeling to this important day in the life of our school.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Educational breadth

Having written last evening about education being about more than exam results, I have just returned from a Senior School service in the Cathedral.  One of our Heads of School gave a really good and interesting address about the importance of skills, character and personality.  Unsurprisingly, the example he used was not drawn from the classroom but from his recent Duke of Edinburgh expedition to the Brecon Beacons and the experience of traversing Pen Y Fan in a snow storm.  He made his points clearly and the experience of presenting to a large audience is also good preparation for life.

Linked to this, I was interested to see an article in yesterday's Telegraph (click here) where leading figures from the worlds of music, theatre, art and dance have expressed concern over a narrowing of education.  This all stems from the move towards an EBacc made up of five compulsory subjects (English, Maths, History or Geography, Science and a Language) and the fear that pupils will stop accessing broader and creative subjects.  It is at times like this that I am glad to be running an independent school where such issues do not arise.  We do teach languages from the age of four which is unusual but also incorporate other subjects such as Art, Design Technology and Music all the way through our Pre-Prep, Prep and Senior Schools.  I agree whole-heartedly with both the concerns raised and also the clear arguments made about the importance of the creative arts in developing skills and enabling the flourishing of the whole person.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Education is about more than exams

Two interesting stories about education have appeared in the press today and between them they highlight the importance of a good education balancing excellent exam results with developing wider skills.

The first story is that the legal challenge against the marking of this summer's GCSE English results is being given a speedy route through the courts (click here for bbc.co.uk reporting).

To my mind there are two underlying issues behind this legal challenge.

1.  The huge importance placed on academic qualifications as a route to success in a qualification-driven society and the resulting pressures on schools to deliver. 
2.  Concern over the pace of proposed changes to GCSE and A Level exams without ensuring a reliable system of exam marking.  This was the reason behind HMC publishing a dossier detailing poor quality marking over the last ten years (see previous blog post).  At the end of last week, the Chair of UCAS raised concerns about reforming some A Levels and not others leading to a two tier system of 'good' and 'bad' A Level subjects (click here for bbc.co.uk reporting).  This mirrors the point I made in an earlier blog about changing a core of GCSEs but not others.  Yesterday The Independent reported low morale in the Department of Education created by concerns over the nature and pace of change.

The second story concerns a new book which is generating huge interest in the US and is shortly to be published in the UK.  Called 'How Children Succeed' by Paul Tough, it argues that exam qualifications are less important to future success than the development of character.  Judith Wood's review in The Telegraph makes for interesting reading and is a well-balanced commentary on the various responses to Tough's argument.

I particularly agree with Judith Wood's comment that a well-rounded education is a key factor behind the international regard for UK independent education.  The trick lies in getting the right balance.  Pupils must get the best results possible without missing out on the wider skills which exams cannot produce but which are equally essential in preparation for a successful, fulfilled life.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

The importance of good Careers Advice

A recent survey in the Times Educational Supplement showed widespread concern in schools about the quality of careers advice on offer.  Two thirds of respondent said they worried 'a lot' or 'sometimes' (click here for TES article).

They are right to be concerned, especially in the context of recession where good jobs are increasingly hard to secure.  The education we provide for our pupils should ensure that they achieve their best possible results in exams but the real value lies in preparing them for a successful, fulfilled life.  Exam results might get you interviews but it's the person who walks through the door that gets the job and that's why we place such a premium on the wider curriculum where skills are developed such as leadership, a willingness to take on challenges and confidence.

Pupils also need specific advice and we will be launching a website in the next few weeks called 'The Jobs Network'.  King's alumni and current parents are registering as mentors so that they can offer careers advice, work experience and other help to enable King's former pupils make decisions about careers and make them better candidates.  Current pupils are also benefitting from CV writing clinics, seminars on different careers paths and mock interviews.  It's a great example of how King's looks after pupils even when they have left school and is a reflection of our commitment to education being a lifelong process.