Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Careers and university support at King's Rochester

Rochester Castle and Cathedral from the River Medway
We live in an increasingly qualification-driven society and one of the first duties of education is to ensure each pupil achieves their academic potential.  However, while exam results may gain job interviews, it is the person who walks through the door that gets the job.  It is the education of the whole person that drives our schools and this leads to a broad co-curricular programme which develops the skills, qualities and interests missed by the taking of exams.  The glue that binds this all together is the provision of outstanding careers preparation at school and for this to be successful it must be planned, targeted and delivered in a thorough and meaningful manner.

At King's we have established a website called The Jobs Network (click here for link) to act as a hub for current and former pupils at King's and it has transformed the level of support available, especially for former pupils who may be embarking on their first career or looking for change or development.  This website contains a database of mentors – drawn from alumni of King’s as well as current and former parents and other contacts of the school.  Once pupils have left they can register with The Jobs Network (access only being available to former pupils of King’s) and search the database for career paths of interest and then make a contact request to a mentor for advice and career development opportunities.  As well as offering practical support it is also an excellent way of developing contacts and engagement with parents and alumni who gain a huge sense of pride and enjoyment from being able to help others and the school.

Having such an excellent ‘contacts book’ of mentors has also transformed careers advice for pupils at King’s.  Every week we host Careers Lunches where pupils meet people from a wide variety of career paths and receive direct insight and advice. Alongside ‘traditional’ areas such as Law, Finance and Engineering there are also sessions on Entrepreneurship and Starting up a Business which are proving very popular with pupils.  

All pupils receive training in areas such as CV writing, interview techniques and networking skills and each year we host a Careers Fair with seminars in the morning and over 40 universities and career providers available in the afternoon for pupils to meet. 

To ensure a taste of the real world we have also put together a practice job application for the Upper Sixth who submit a CV and letter of application before having a practice job interview with one of the mentors followed by detailed feedback on their performance and advice for improvement.  This sort of opportunity is invaluable. Especially with very few universities interviewing for entry, often the first such experience comes towards the end of university when a job is at stake. It is not difficult to build this into education and we use the same format for scholarship applications and it is equally applicable for entrance interviews and applications for positions of responsibility such as school prefects.

Careers advice is part of the programme when choosing GCSE options and especially so when making A Level choices.  It is also built into our UCAS system where the key to our success in supporting pupils and their parents in making successful applications is to personalise the whole process with subject specialist mentors for each pupil based on their chosen course. We also provide bespoke support for applications to Oxbridge, Medicine, Veterinary Science, Dentistry and other courses where specific guidance and training is necessary.

The great thing about the whole process is that it really does make a fundamental difference to the future success of our pupils as well as binding the King’s community of pupils, staff, parents and alumni ever closer together.

I recently filmed an interview for the British Boarding Schools Workshop about Careers and University applications at King's and for a link to the video on YouTube please click here.

While access to The Jobs Network is exclusively for King’s alumni, the website technology is available to other schools under license.  Enquiries should be addressed to principal@kings-rochester.co.uk





Saturday, 31 January 2015

Government league tables a nonsense as independent schools stick to quality

The Paddock at King's
The results of thousands of pupils sitting IGCSE examinations last summer have not been counted in this year’s Department for Education (DfE) performance tables rendering the tables published on Thursday 29th January meaningless. 

The majority of independent schools choose rigorous IGCSE courses as they provide more stretch for pupils and give an excellent basis for A level study.  At King’s, our Upper Fifth (Year 11) pupils study IGCSEs in Mathematics, English, the Sciences, Music and Modern Foreign Languages.  This means that at least 5 - and as many as 9 - of their qualifications are now not counted by the DfE in their latest tables.  King’s, together with many other independent schools, therefore appears in the league tables as having 0% of pupils passing at least 5 GCSEs at A*-C including English and Maths.  I notice that we are also shown to have pupils taking an average of just under 4 GCSEs each although the actual total of GCSEs and IGCSEs taken is 9 or 10.  In their data on A Level, the DfE does not even have the right data set for King's despite my Deputy Head, Academic informing them on several occasions of their error meaning that our performance at A Level has also been shown as lower than in reality.  

Having said that, under the incorrect data King's would have placed 20th out of the 37 Grammar schools in Kent and Medway.  Using the accurate data, King's would place 10th compared to the Grammar schools.  Considering that every Grammar school is more academically selective than King's this demonstrates a very impressive performance from our pupils and their teachers.

The Education Secretary's response has been to claim that IGCSEs are somehow of a lower quality than new GCSEs which the government wants all pupils to take.  This is ludicrous when balanced against the fact that independent schools regularly outperform the maintained sector in public exams and progression to universities.  Independent schools are also largely responsible for keeping vital and rigorous subjects such as the sciences, mathematics and languages going at A Level as they decline rapidly elsewhere.  The continued failure to engage with the independent sector on areas such as A Level and GCSE reform alongside such ridiculous mis-reporting in this year's performance tables can only serve to damage education in this country with potential knock-on effects to the economy.

It would seem that to record 0% in this year's tables is a badge of integrity and demonstrates that, as an independent school, we will continue to exercise our freedom to do what is right to ensure our pupils receive the best quality education available.

This has received widespread coverage in the media (click here for reports in The Daily Telegraph and on the BBC website).  HMC (the Association to which King’s and 270 of the UK’s top independent schools belong) has issued a statement on behalf of its members saying that “the decision to drop IGCSEs from the league tables over the next 2 years means that those tables have become a nonsense” and that “Several of the UK’s most highly performing independent schools………offering this excellent qualification will now appear to be bottom of the class in the Government’s rankings”. The statement continues, “This obviously absurd situation creates further confusion for parents as they cannot compare schools’ performance accurately and transparently”.  ASCL (The Association of School and College Leaders), has issued a similar statement stating that their members have now deemed “GCSE performance tables ‘irrelevant’”.