Monday, mid-morning coffee half-sipped, biscuit resisted, fruit eaten, (a small victory – lead by example), but I’m battling to organise all my thoughts into coherent, tidy channels. The summer break is over, I’m a bit rusty. This is the pause before everyone flushes back to BGS. Tomorrow is the first day of a new academic year.
Today much is coursing through the (all too porous) old grey matter. Much, too much for comfort perhaps, has being going on educationally over the summer. I’m still processing some of it, the good, bad and ugly for our nation’s schools and the children we serve. Additionally, and predictably, heightened nerves and excitement at the prospect of welcoming over 1000 BGS pupils back to school and the hope that I might impart some Headmasterly wisdom in assembly adds a little turbulence to any disciplined thinking. I’ll warm up.
Talking earlier with our incoming Year 7, 12 (Lower Sixth) and new pupils in various age groups (as part of an induction programme) is helping and some streams of thought are running clear. I’ve said ‘well-done’ individually to many BGS students in recent weeks for their first rate GCSE and A Level exam results. What has been achieved makes me justifiably proud of our young people and my colleagues, teaching and support staff, who work together to fashion the right conditions to maximise our pupils’ prospects of success.
The summer headlines for BGS have been terrifically positive, but it was with conviction that I wrote:
“We are also keenly aware of the many individual successes that represent a triumph for those students who realised or exceeded expectations at all levels of achievement. Whilst we are rightly proud of the overall balance of the results gained, it is the many personal stories of accomplishment and success that will stick long in the memory. Not everyone achieves the highest grades, but a life changing education is open to all at BGS and value is added across the board in many ways.
The message is clear, honest effort and a positive mind-set – encapsulated in our age old School credo of ‘Hoc Age’, roughly translated as ‘get on and do it’ – pay dividends and speak volumes about the unfussy and high achieving character of Bradford Grammar School. Well done, all.”
Tomorrow’s assembly will allow me the privileged opportunity to once again recognise the collective success of our pupils and another set of results (56% of A Levels at A* A and 73% GCSEs at A* A, equivalent to a seven and higher) that once again chart year on year progress. Naturally, our eyes also scan a wider horizon and BGS paid tribute to all young people in our city and locality who collected well-deserved exam results this summer.
We looked also to our sector and joined the celebrations of independent schools elsewhere. The Independent Schools Council (ISC) collect and neatly package the good news. This year ISC reported that 47.9% of all A-Levels taken in independent schools were graded at A* A, almost double the national average, whilst the figure for GCSEs scoring A/7 or higher was 62.9%, more than three times the national average. Independently crunched data tell an encouraging story of value being added by ISC schools like BGS.
Taking GCSEs as an example, the Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring (CEM) at The University of Durham concluded in a 2016 report that attending an independent school in England is associated with the equivalent of two additional years of schooling by the age of 16. Unpick some of the detail and you will read that independent schooling accounts for a 0.64 of a GCSE grade increase per qualification and that if independent schools were measured on international PISA outcomes, they would outperform the best European nations and be level with Japan and South Korea.
It is accepted that research outcomes can vary, just ask Tom Richmond, teacher, senior policy fellow at the thinktank Policy Exchange and former advisor to the Department for Education. However as recently as last month Dave Thomson, chief statistician at the Fischer family Trust, replied to Mr Richmond in a blog for Education Datalab reporting his findings “that independent schools do tend to achieve slightly higher value-added scores than state schools where expected results are similar.”
The prospective parent when choosing a school for their child might make use of such information when gently enquiring of Heads how value is added in their schools. Such conversations are welcomed at BGS. We know that an education BGS style makes a difference within and beyond the classroom as part of a character-building package. The home/school dynamic is healthy and the approach to education, including pastoral care and well-being, is finely tuned and it works.
Predictably, during results season we read about exam factories and hot houses, the suggestion being I assume that academically successful schools and colleges pay little regard to the holistic development of the child. Images are conjured of battery-shed schools; children force-fed facts and filled Gradgrindian fashion with rarefied packets of knowledge. What tosh. Pedestrian analysis of this kind is provided by observers who don’t understand children today, their achievements and the learning process. Shouldn’t we celebrate the accomplishments of all children, including in their studies, rather than attribute success to some absurd, comic book conception of bullying schoolmasters? (I think the caffeine is beginning to take effect…)
In my three years at BGS we’ve worked with inspiring teacher trainers like Russel Tarr and Amjad Ali who continue to influence and improve our teaching. Twice now, groups of colleagues, a critical mass, have attended Russel’s superb Practical Pedagogies conference. Two of us summoned up the courage to present last year. I was decidedly average; my colleague was superb!
Increasing numbers of my fellow teachers at BGS are part of regional teaching networks, attend and present at TeachMeets, collaborate with colleagues in other schools and support our grass roots, teacher-led Teaching and Learning Group. This year a team of colleagues will have specific responsibility for leading exciting new teaching methods and driving forwards yet more cross-department pedagogy. The result? Varied and enjoyable lessons informed by secure professional knowledge of what works and designed to stretch and support in equal measure. We talk about teaching at BGS and enjoy our work. Truth be told, it was a first class presentation to staff last Friday on differentiation and stretch by Robert Powell that has motivated this blog.
What happens in the classroom at BGS prepares our pupils for more than just exams. Moreover, we don’t talk about extra-curricular activities at BGS – a counter balance to studying – but rather a co-curricular programme of complimentary activity permeating all aspects of school life, scholarly, cultural, sporty and community-oriented, that makes for a cohesive and enriching whole.
Coffee break over. The caffeine has worked its trick and this blog is becoming a speech. It seems I might be warming up after all. More importantly, I’ve got students I want to meet and it’s not long until the Year 12 lunchtime barbecue. I resisted a biscuit earlier, but …
“We know that an education BGS style makes a difference within and beyond the classroom as part of a character-building package.
The home/school dynamic is healthy and the approach to education, including pastoral care and well-being, is finely tuned and it works.”