Monday, 15 June 2015

Rights and Responsibilities

800 years ago, today, a truly historical act took place. For the first time ever in history, a group of (for the time) relatively ordinary people held the king to account and limited his power over ordinary people.

The Magna Carta, which is Latin for the 'Great Charter' (not too inspiring or original a title, I know, but hey, it was 800 years ago!) was put to King John of England by a group of Barons and churchmen to be signed. 

You could say that if he hadn't, then he probably would not have lived much longer, but to sign a document promising to limit his own powers was a genuinely historical moment. Up to that point in history, the ruler was considered untouchable - they could have whatever they wanted and frequently saw the people in their country as simply playthings, there to provide whatever the ruler wanted.

The Magna Carta put limits on that. And they were limits that, on the whole, still stand today. The Magna Carta was a promise that:

  • The rights of the church would be protected,
  • People would not be imprisoned illegally, for no reason,
  • People would receive swift justice, rather than sit in prison without end waiting for a trial,
  • There would be limits on the amount of taxes the monarch could impose.

The Magna Carta, the meeting near Windsor, 800 years ago today, is a moment in history and a document that makes History important. This document had a huge impact then, and throughout history. Your lives are different because of it.

The Magna Carta failed, as the King tried to carry on his life as if it never mattered. However, this triggered wars and a new Manga Carta was renewed a couple of years later and since then has held those in power to account for how they treat ordinary people.

The Magna Carta became the starting point on which our entire legal system is based, and in the 18th Century, when the new colonies in America were shaping their independence, the  Magna Carta was used as the basis for their constitution - the Magna Carta, therefore, shaped the American Constitution and Bill of Rights.

A group of people who were not happy with the way they were being treated held a king to account 800 years ago and changed the face of human civilisation forever!

And you wonder why I frequently say that you hold enormous power in your futures - who knows what you are capable of doing ,if only you have the conviction to do it…

Today, we have a universal bill of human rights, a document that most of the world subscribe to; the following is a list of substantive rights:

  • The right to life - no human should be deprived of this right …
  • Freedom from torture
  • Freedom from slavery
  • The right to a fair trial
  • Freedom of speech
  • Freedom of thought
  • Freedom of movement

They are not that different from the Magna Carta!

And in school? Well, we have our code of conduct. This sets out the conditions we feel everyone in the school should aspire to & how we should behave.

In principle, it is our bill of rights, our Magna Carta.

You have the right to come to school, without fear of being intimidated or picked on.

You have the right to come to school and learn; to have the opportunities to aspire to be your best.

From the code of conduct:

All students are expected to treat all other students with the same respect they would like others to show them.
Students will be expected to accept others for who they are, not seek to limit, put down or control others through intimidation, harassment or bullying. Any student who engages in this sort of behaviour will be dealt with most severely, through the school’s behaviour protocols. Students who believe that this sort of behaviour is perfectly acceptable are not welcome at Sandymoor School and persistent or significant behaviour of this sort will result in a student being asked to leave.
This includes actions and behaviour that occur outside of school.

You have the right to your own opinion, to have your own thoughts and vocalise them, but in the context of not limiting another person's rights.

And that is where things get tricky; you have a set of rights, we all have a set of rights, but one right we all have is the right to be ourselves, be who we want to be, without fear of intimidation or discrimination.

That means we also have responsibilities; and the primary responsibility is to support and defend the rights of others. To not behave in such a way that the rights of another are limited or reduced.

And that is why the code of conduct goes on to say:

Students who experience this sort of negative, harmful, damaging behaviour need to understand that the school does not tolerate it and as soon as it is reported it will be dealt with and the victim will be protected from further harm. This is not ‘grassing’ but is shining a light on unacceptable behaviour, exposing the bully to the light.
Students who witness or support those who feel it is acceptable to behave in such ways and who do not report it are just as responsible as the one carrying out the bullying & can expect the same level of punishment. To see something ‘wrong’ happen and not act is to accept the wrong behaviour.
There is the underlying assumption that all students will want to make the most of the opportunities provided by the school to grow and develop themselves. Therefore all students will be expected to strive to participate in lessons and activities that others have spent time and effort designing.
Within that context, we have a group of students who are expected to uphold these rights. They have the responsibility to lead by example and not to limit others.

And to not abuse the power they have through their position. King John, 800 years ago, learnt what happened when he tried to abuse his power.

The student Prefect Team are here to support the school, to strive to help other students experience the best the school can be and to support the staff in providing an environment where everyone can feel safe.

The Head Boys & Head Girls are expected to be examples of this, to strive to be the best they can be. They are supported by the prefect team; they perform duties around school, most importantly they are there to hold other students to account when behaviour falls below our expectations. As I have said before, they do their duties under my authority, so when they ask another student to stop doing something, they are doing it as if it were me doing it. I hold them to high standards, however, and if they act in a way that is less than I would expect, then they can expect to be told so by me.

We also have a team of students who take on responsibility in the house system. You are all in a house and have a responsibility to help your house be the best it can be. The House Captains will work to support the House staff in organising house events, arranging inter-house competitions, etc.

And we have our Microsoft Student Ambassadors. These students have been working hard to support the ICT in school and are rolling out initiatives to help this further.

Monday, 1 June 2015

Grit or determination

I found the following quote the other day, attributed to Pele, regarded by many as one of the greatest footballers of all time:

"Success is no accident. It is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice and most of all love of what you are doing."

 It takes all of these to be successful.

Before half term, I talked about what, in fact, success was - what it means to be successful and challenged you with thinking about what success means to you.

Success, if defined right, will make you happy, but the journey to get there is long and often hard. There is another saying, not attributed to anyone, but frequently quoted in lots of different ways:

"If something is worth aspiring for, it is likely to be hard work to achieve; nothing that takes little effort is ever, truly, worth very much."

There has been lots in the news recently about the fact that the main thing missing in young people's lives (i.e. you!) is aspiration - young people, apparently, have no ambition, they don't aspire to be or do anything.

Now, working with you & working with young people for over 25 years, I can say that this is not true - the vast majority of you have ambition, you aspire to things & frequently these are worthy things to aspire to as well.  

So it's not a lack of aspiration that is holding you back.

It is more likely the journey ahead, the route you can see ahead of you and tee knowledge of the difficulties ahead.

And this is where Pele's quote comes in. Yes, it is going to be hard, and yes, you are likely to fail at some things along the way. But that is good; that is life. If you are not prepared to be challenged, if you are not prepared to try new things & not always get it right then be prepared to be left behind while the world moves forwards ahead of you.

This is a hard message, but an important one - life does not owe you anything. We live in a world surrounded by the media message that we have 'rights', and yes, we do, but we also have responsibilities and failure to accept our part in anything will, more often than not lead to you missing out on what you feel is your due.

If you look at successful people, whether it's music stars, sportsmen or women, business people, or 'just' famous people, and feel jealous because of their success, don’t! They have all got where they are through pure hard work and determination.

Whether it's the musician who practices and practices their music until their fingers bleed, wrap them in plasters and then keep going until they are the musical success they want to be, or the sportswoman who wakes up at 4am every morning to put in two or more hours a day of training before going to school, then a further two hours training in the evening and more every weekend, until they get into the team they have always wanted to. Every successful person has worked hard, strived, frequently failed and picked themselves up again, refusing to accept failure as an outcome.

In fact, as I'm on a roll with quotes, another one for you:

You only truly fail when you stop trying. . .

Hard work, determination, the refusal to give up. These are all the key qualities that define successful people, whatever their background or field of success.

And finally, my all time favourite quote, one which I do hold to my heart and try to live by. It sums up my approach to life & is from probably my favourite film ever.

"Do, or do not … there is no try." (Yoda, from Star Wars Episode V)

It basically says that if you say that you will try (as in "I'll try my hardest"), then you are already accepting failure as an option. Either do something or don't. If you do, then give it your all & do not give in until you have achieved. Otherwise don't.

Monday, 18 May 2015

What does it mean to be successful?

This is a good question to ask, at this time of year in particular. All around the country, thousands of students are taking public exams, the supposed outcome of the factory that is school. The measure of success, for the schools concerned as well as the students themselves, is resting on the performance of 16 - 18 year olds. Exam season is as old as the hills; your parents, grandparents, even great-grandparents and so on back hundreds of years have all been through this period of time.  

But is that what success is? Passing a set of exams? Now, don't get me wrong; passing exams is a product of our society and is a gateway to our futures. There is no getting around that and unless (or until) a new system is devised, we are going to have to ensure that we perform in these exams, whenever they are. Every teacher in the school has had to go through what you have to go through. And the workplace of the future, your future, is going to continue to be a tough one. Getting the grades, passing the exams, is not an optional extra, but is a barrier to a wide range of futures. You do need to pass the exams, whether they're GCSEs, BTECS, A-levels, or anything else. That is, as is said in the business world, non-negotiable.

But they are not, then, an automatic pass to the future. There's so much more to being successful, so many more ways to define it.

Success has two meanings; the first is a relatively simple one - to accomplish a desired aim or result. So, I can say that I am successful in terms of having helped to set up this school; Sandymoor School exists and  is recognised as a very good school. Result, as they say. Mission accomplished. 

But the other, probably more common, definition of success is more tricky. This definition says that success is to 'have achieved fame, wealth or social status'. Really? Well, am I successful, then? No, I'm not wealthy, certainly am not famous and what does it actually mean to have social status anyway? 

The problem with success is that it actually means something different for each and every person. What is success for me may well mean absolutely nothing for you. I feel that I am successful; I feel like I am doing a good job (although that's for others to judge), am reasonably healthy, have enough money to enjoy nice things, have nice holidays, etc., and have family and friends around me to share the good times & support through the bad. I feel like I'm making a difference, which is important to me. That's success. For me. 

And that's the point. What is success for you? It comes in a number of categories to start with.

Friendship - are you a good friend? Do you have people around you who accept you for who you are & like you for who you are? Do you like people for who they are, rather than what they can do for you?  

Health - are you living a healthy life? Do you eat the right sort of food? Do you ensure that you exercise so your heart & lungs are kept healthy enough to see you through the rest of your life?

Future - you may not know what you want to be or do when you leave school, but you do need to face the reality that this is going to happen, and soon. In fact, the vast majority of you will be able to vote the next time we have a general election - you will be adult enough to be asked to have a say in how the country runs, so you should be adult enough to have a say in how you are then! As I said, exams are not everything, but they are a barrier if you don't give them & the lessons, the time they deserve. School is not a social event where how you look or who you're seen with is more important than anything else. Go down that route and you will be alone and miserable, with no exams and a limited future ahead of you.

But there's so much you can do about that. Believe that you can do anything you want. Yes, there's a lot you don't know. There's a whole pile of stuff I don't know. But you know what? If you refuse to ask someone for help, because you don't want to look stupid, then you'll never know what you can do, and you'll never grow.

In every field, whether it's sport, business, or entertainment, the message is clear. If you are not prepared to put the work in, and to risk something you are not sure about; i.e. try something new, something that you are not sure about, then you'll never get anywhere.

Take Stephen Gerrard; whether you are a reds fan or not, there is no doubt that, for over 15 years he has been successful at his club. Awarded an MBE by the queen, regarded by everyone who should know as one of the very best players of his generation, Gerrard has made the decision to move on, to go to LA (& who wouldn't, if I'm honest!), to do something new and uncertain. He got where he is through hard work, persistence and a determination not take second best or 'good enough' in anything he did. And he got everything he deserved because of that. There's a message for all of us. Nothing comes to us on a plate - if something is worth wanting, then it's going to take hard work and determination to get it. But beyond that, we also need to be sure we don't rest on our seats when we think we have enough. Complacency, or laziness, can lead us to not challenge ourselves and we always need to be checking that we are doing the best we can be. That is why Gerrard is going to LA. (& for the weather, of course…).

So a simple message: What does success look like for you? And not success now, where it could be something as simple as having a certain group of friends, or having a specific gadget, but what does success look like for you in 5 or 10 years? Don't let anyone else pull you down or persuade you to be a certain way; instead, work out your own way. It's a dilemma for each generation; every young person wants to be individual, to not be like everyone else, and yet the herd mentality pulls us always to following the trend. And because we don't want to stand out. But if you like yourself, if you respect yourself and know you are doing the best you can, then that is a great start. If you are prepared to put in the work, to ensure you have the basis, the foundations on which your future will be built, then that's even better. You don't need to know the detail of what you are going to be like in 5 or 10 years, but you do need to plan for it. To ensure you don't put in any limits by following someone else. After all, it's very likely that in 10 years' time you will not see these people or have anything to do with them . . . If you follow someone else's dreams, you run the risk of being left abandoned in the fog, with no knowledge of where you are or how to get out.

Monday, 27 April 2015


We all know, use and have been asked then question; 'are you well?' Or it's more common; 'How are you?'

And we probably give the quick response; 'I'm fine, thanks', or possibly the grammatically incorrect 'I'm good, thanks'.

But what do we mean by that & are we, actually, being honest anyway? Are we well? Or has the question just become an unmeaning social construct, as simple as shaking hands? What would you do if you asked someone and they actually said that they weren't actually feeling so good … ?

And what does it mean to be 'well' anyway? Let's think about wellbeing in three different areas:

The most obvious one, the one definition of wellbeing that is, certainly, the oldest and most often discussed:

Physical Wellbeing

To be physically well is, I would think, a fairly obvious one. To not be ill. To not have a cold, or illness. We all know how we feel when we go down with something, be it a cold, flu, or something more serious. We know, at this level, when we are not physically well. And we have no problem seeking out help and support from professionals about this. And even to physical injury; it is clear and obvious when you have damaged something because you will probably be wearing some form of support, or showing a limp, etc.

The thing is, with physical wellbeing, on the surface, it is pretty clear whether you are well or not. And when you're not, you will most likely be quick to seek help and support.

Or is it? There is another level of physical wellbeing that is less obvious - the healthy lifestyle part of it. Are you well, in terms of eating healthy food, drinking enough water, not eating or drinking stuff you shouldn’t (like energy drinks), etc? Sandymoor is a Healthy School - we have a certificate & badge to show that we care about things like this. That is why we have banned pot noodles & similar foods in school; they are not healthy. They do not do you any good. And it's why we are continually going on about getting you to bring in bottles for water. Drinking water through the day is healthy. It contributes to you being well . . .

If all you eat is chocolate, sweets, crisps and junk like this, or have too much salt on your food, or drink energy drinks, then you are, in fact, simple, hard fact, damaging your inner body - causing damage to organs that are still growing and developing; organs that you need to be working well for the next 80+ years.

And healthy, active lifestyles are important too. All the research shows that we need to get our bodies active and working hard on a regular basis, to keep, in particular, our lungs and heart working well, It is important to get out of breath and sweaty on a regular basis, through exercise. Again, because if you don't, your heart & lungs are weakened & you need these to work well through your whole life. . .

But Physical wellbeing is only part of the story too. As a school, we have put the next category in as equally important:

Academic Wellbeing

This one doesn't appear in any lists on wellbeing you  can find on the internet, but as a school, we do believe it is important that you are 'well' academically. Succeeding in school, achieving the subjects and the grades you want &/or need, tasking responsibility for your learning and pushing yourself now, is an important element of your wellbeing. Now and into the future.

There is a direct link between how you achieve in school and elements of your future life success; Being successful in school, getting good grades has clear links to better jobs and salaries in the future. And better jobs lead to better lifestyles, with more choice for you.

But beyond that, we are trying to give you the skills to be hungry to learn new things, to be able to seek out new information and do something with it. To, in effect, be able to survive the changing world we live in, where there will be, for example, jobs you will be able to apply for that no-one in the world has yet imagined.

Doing well at school is a very important part of being well overall. We want you to be, to aspire to become the very best you can, but that requires you to have a positive attitude to that as well - education, school, doesn't happen to you, you need to participate and seize the opportunities we provide. You need to be hungry to get from us the most you can, so you can be the best you can be.

You must want to become better. But that rests on the last, and quite possibly, most important, aspect of wellbeing:

Emotional Wellbeing

Being emotionally 'well' is more complex than both the other categories put together and is much harder to define. It is also the newest of the wellbeing elements. There are still some people who deny emotional wellbeing is an issue anyhow - the old-school mentality of stiff upper lip, or just plough on and get on with things anyhow. The mental 'slap on the bottom'.

But study after study shows that mental wellbeing, emotional resilience, self-awareness and self-confidence are all keys to success and wellbeing overall. You can be a straight A student, in the peak of physical condition, but still not be well if you are not in control of your emotions or mental state.

And there is so much in this area that we do not have the time to go through. But . . .

Emotional wellbing is about being happy with yourself. Because of who you are, not because someone else wants you to be something. And that can be a friend (although I would not call someone who is only nice to you if you behave or look a certain way a friend anyhow…), or the pressures of media, from the celebrities and superstars through all the channels of social media.

Emotional wellbeing is about accepting who you are. You are good enough and you do deserve to be happy. You do not depend on others, or things, to be good enough. Accepting you for who you are, looking in the mirror and liking what you see.

Emotional wellbeing is about being in charge. Do not let anyone else control you, put you down or stop you doing what you believe in. They are not a friend and are not someone to listen to.

Emotional wellbeing is about being resilient. In a world with anytime, anywhere access, where we expect to get things now, rather than have to wait, it can be difficult to believe, but things worth having are worth waiting for. You cannot be everything you aspire to right here, right now. You need to work at it, persevere and keep trying. There's a great phrase that says if you have not failed, you've never tried to do something worthwhile, because things worthwhile are hard.

So, are you well? The good news is that you are in control. If you are well, in all areas, then go you! Hats off to you! You have achieved it all; Can you please tell me (& everyone else) how you did it? And write a book about it - there are literally hundreds, if not thousands, or books out there on how to be happy. . .

But if you're like the rest of us, struggling in one, or even all three, of these areas, then that is absolutely fine - you're human and alive. And in control. The trick is to sit down and work out what you are not happy about and then do something about it. And remember that you don't have to ever do it alone. It is not a failure to admit that you need help, in any of these areas. After all, as I said, we will all seek help in the first category - Physical Wellbeing. Why not in the other two?

Tuesday, 21 April 2015


This week's assembly was on the topic of collaboration and working together:

There's a phrase that has been around since forever; one that comes up time and time again, but probably most recently in the popular media through the US version of the X factor. You may remember (if you watch it) the girl group - Fifth Harmony?

The phrase is :

We're better together

And it doesn't matter that it's so well known, so 'true' that we tend to ignore it. In fact, it is the most important concept out there & is, in fact, even more fundamental to the school's ethos than my usual mantra of 'Respect' & trust …

Because the fact is we are not alone, we do not work, we could not survive, if we were truly alone. No one person could live a modern life, with all its trimmings, on their own - no one person can know the sum totality of human knowledge, from medicine to engineering to agriculture.

We rely on others all the time. We are a social animal. We always have been and always will. From the first time we came down from the trees, our distant ancestors worked out that they could defend themselves against the wild animals by working together & they could feed themselves better by working as a team to hunt. Society is based on the principle of division of labour, where different people in the group take on different roles.

We are better together.

The very word, society, comes from a Latin word, socii, which directly translates to the English word - allies. People who co-operate to help a group achieve something they could not achieve alone. Like, for example, the collection of countries that grouped together in the first half of the 1940's to defeat Nazi Germany.

Our school community is a society; we work best when we work together. Like the wider society, there's not one person who can do everything to keep the school running smoothly & the staff all work closely together to help this. The result is that you all have the best possible opportunity to become the very best you can be.

And that's the point; there's so much more in the phrase 'Better Together' than just passively letting others get on with their lives. We have to actively work together, co-operate and collaborate to help others be the best they can be, so that we become the best we can be.

Collaboration is key.

It is also one of six identified social skills that are already crucial and will only become more important in the work place of the future. Your workplace.

For the record, the 6 social skills identified are:

  • Collaboration
  • Knowledge Construction
  • Self-regulation
  • Real-world problem-solving & innovation
  • The use of ICT
  • Skilled communication
But collaboration is the really important one.
In so many ways, we are programmed to compete, to try to outdo each other and overcome others to be 'the best'. And I'm not saying that competition is bad; quite the opposite - competition is a good, healthy thing and there are loads of situations where there can be only one winner, so to develop the skills of competition are also crucial, but we have those, almost built into our DNA, so don't need to spend too much time on these.

The problem is when we try to compete when there is no race, no competition to participate in. When there is no one winner, only losers. That's when collaboration is crucial.

In the classroom, for example. Here at Sandymoor, we have tables in clusters, where you work alongside and around colleagues. There is no competition there; or at least there shouldn't be… If someone on your table doesn't know something, there is nothing to be gained from gloating and letting them struggle, whereas if you help them, they can then carry on and learn and grow. And the flip side? Well, when you need help because you don't understand something, they will be more inclined to help you too. As a result, everyone gets better. Win-win, if you ask me.

There's another great phrase I use time and time again, which also emphasises the importance of collaboration;

Shoulders of giants

It dates back almost 900 years, where a French philosopher first wrote it down, but I heard it by reading about one of my heroes - the famous Physicist; Isaac Newton. Both used it in the same context, to say that we can only see further, understand more, than those before us because we are standing on their shoulders, using their knowledge and understanding to make sense of what we are seeing. We are like dwarves, seeing further only because we are standing on the shoulders of giants.

We become bigger, better, by working with others, working alongside them and helping them as they help us. Our ancient ancestors learnt that, when attacked in their caves by packs of wild animals, so why is it sometimes so hard to do it now?

Try it.
Rather than fighting others, putting them down to make yourself look bigger, or refusing to help someone because you don't like them, try reaching out and helping them. At the very least, you never know when you might need them to repay the favour.

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Digital Exercise Books

In the modern world, we use technology to replace old ways of doing things all the time,from the introduction of cordless telephones, through to mobile phones and, of course, the replacement of the typewriter with the computer.

But as we can see from the diagram (called the SAMR model of technology integration), simply replacing how we've done things in the past is the lowest level of utilising the power of modern technology.

And we can clearly see the changes, moving towards augmentation, with text messaging, and tools like PowerPoint changing how we present and communicate, but these are 'just' enhancements to how things have always been done, rather than actually changing how things are done - transformation. That's not saying that this is a bad thing, but it is frequently cited as a reason why technology in education is costly and has limited impact. It is only when we go into true transformation that we can begin to see the true impact of technology on education.

At Sandymoor, we were set up with the strap line of being a 'Fresh Approach to Education' and everything we do is explored from the beginning, asking if this is the best way to do something, or just the 'normal' way things are done. This has led to us keeping a lot of things the way they are normally done - we are not into throwing out the baby with the bath water, after all! We even have some very traditional systems, like a house system, prefects and formal assemblies. But where we see a benefit for doing things differently, we embrace the change, and plan to embed the change in how we do things. The use of technology is firmly in this bracket, because we believe that we can only prepare our students for their future by embracing technology and transforming learning through technology.

One of the first things a visitor to the school notices is the fact that we don't have traditional whiteboards on the walls and have no 'Interactive Whiteboards' (IWBs) anywhere. This is because these tools are firmly in the bracket of substitution (or, in the case of the outdated IWB, occasional augmentation); from blackboard & chalk to whiteboard & pen, then to 'interactive' whiteboard, with digital pens. And yes, students could interact with these whiteboards, but surely that's what students have always done when asked to come and write on the board? There is no transformation there! And there really is no difference in a student copying out from a teacher's chalked writing or a writing from a board pen - there is still the relatively mindless, static copying out of information, the student passive and the teacher the active in the act.

But from this summer term, we are taking the transformation on to the next level. We have rolled out digital exercise books to all students. These are in the form of OneNote ClassBooks, integrated into our Office 365 ecosystem. Students can access their digital exercise books from any web-enabled device, giving them full freedom to use their own personal devices. We are enforcing a system where each student has to bring with them a device to lessons; these can be their own device, or a leased, or loaned device through the school, but they need to have something to access their digital exercise book.

So, how does this transform the learning experience? Well, the ClassBook provides a whole range of additional ways for engagement and collaboration. First of all, the ClassBook allows the students to add text, video and audio to their notes, making their work much more multi-media focussed. We already have, for example, students creating audio notes in Spanish for their homework, so they can practice their vocabulary without being embarrassed by their peers. It also enables teachers to provide much richer feedback; with audio notes replacing the red (or if trendy, green) pen. It also allows students to record videos or pictures of experiments in science, or instructions in technology.

There are also collaboration spaces, where students can work together on projects, copying the finished work into their own space for posterity at the end. And to cap it all, the teacher has a whole section that becomes, in effect, a living, growing text book, where class notes, additional material and extension work available for all students to access.

And if a student wants to work on paper, or forgets their device? Simple - they can quickly and easily upload a photo of their work into their ClassBook, again keeping it for posterity. This happens to make marking so much easier too; the teacher doesn't have to carry home stacks of exercise books as everything is online in their ClassBook.

So many young people struggle with handwriting, and the handwriting becomes a barrier to learning, something that causes barriers to go up; in these cases, the technology opens doors for students, as opposed to closing them.

Some will say that this is all well and good, but is at the cost of traditional skills. Not necessarily; handwriting is still an important skill to develop and one that the use of digital exercise books enhances, rather than degrades. This is because we can separate the skill from the content - when handwriting is being taught, this becomes the focus and rather than being assumed to be taught can become something that is explicitly developed. The same for grammar and spelling, where it can be easier to see, and correct, without impacting on the content. The development of spelling and grammatical skills is not degraded by the use of technology. Again, by the fact that we separate the knowledge & understanding from the skills development, we can spend more quality time focussing on and enhancing student understanding of the importance of grammar & spelling.

Tuesday, 31 March 2015


With the Easter Break looming, the clocks now back on British Summer Time and the first glimpses of new growth on the trees and plants, I certainly have started looking forward to warmer weather, longer days and sun …

But this is because we are coming out of winter. The seasons tick off their timing, winter to spring, spring to summer, summer to autumn and then back to winter's icy grip. The revolving door of time, the ever changing, yet unchanging characteristic of nature, the reassurance of the changing seasons. The seasons change, but we are reassured by their predictability.

What about real changes? Changes that make a difference and cannot be reversed? Growing up is one such change, for example. As I have said before, we start off life as a completely helpless babe, entirely dependent on others for everything and as we grow, we start to be able to make choices, take control of things. And it's then that we discover that being in control is hard. We don’t always get what we want, when we want it, so we learn to hate change. Change becomes a signal for unpleasantness, for more difficult things.

But we have to fight that; change is the very essence of the universe, at the very centre of everything and is impossible to fight. If we waste time energy & effort in holding back change, we are wasting opportunities and chances that pass us by. Like King Canute, trying to hold back change will only result in futility as profound as trying to hold back the tide.

(Historical aside: King Canute was a king who reigned over 1,000 years ago - a Viking king, who controlled what is now modern day Denmark, Norway & England - one of the most powerful people in the world. He was thought to be a good king, with great power, but even he could not control the changing nature of time, as demonstrated in his attempting to stop the tide from coming in…)

Change is, paradoxically, unchanging. There will always be change, whether it's global warming, the next version of Windows, or new houses growing up where there were once fields. Change, the only reliable, unchanging fact of living.

So how do we respond to change? As I said, we naturally learn to fear it, to see it as something to dread. But if we change our mindset, look ahead and seek out the opportunities the change brings, we can make so much more of what the future delivers us.

As a school, we are growing, changing, rapidly. That is what we have to do; moving from the temporaries, into this amazing building, was a huge change. And it was not simply looked forward to; some were worried about the space, having got used to the smallness of the old buildings, for example, and feared losing their way, or being caught somewhere they shouldn't be when we moved. And the new students & staff. But such is the way of things and we all adapted and now feel like this building is home, is our 'normality'. So we are now planning to grow again; we have over 100 new students joining us this coming September, and after Easter, we will start the process of getting to know them, so they feel part of our family before they even arrive. It will have a lovely new feel to the school, with almost 300 students in the corridors and classrooms! New friends and new opportunities.

As you know, we have also, last week, started to recruit all the new staff who will be joining us to help you all on your journey. We have, to date, had over 150 applications for 9 posts. Last week, we interviewed 23 people, putting them through a rigorous process to make sure we recruited only the best to join us in our growth.

(I am not arrogant enough to think that everyone who applied for a job here will read this, but if any are, I would like to thank them for taking the time to apply; it is not an easy task to find the time to complete an application form, think about the upheaval that moving jobs will make, and apply, in the complete uncertainty of the outcome. Everyone I met on interview was, in their own right, a truly unique individual, and not once did I think I had chosen badly to shortlist. To the successful candidates, I look forward to working with you as we continue to grow and develop this amazing school & to the unsuccessful ones, I wish you all the best in your own personal journeys - who knows; our paths may cross again.)

The process continues, as we recruit more staff this week & after Easter; in September, we will have over 50 people working in the school, all committed and passionate about helping everyone here be nothing but the best they can possibly be.

One of the questions I posed to the candidates last week was 'What, actually, do teachers do?'. This question was inspired, I must admit, by the great performance poet, Taylor Mali - look him up; he's simply amazing!

A simple question, with a hard answer, especially one that is short and to the point. But one candidate hit the nail on the head, and that is why we appointed them. The answer they gave was:

To be strong for the students, especially when they can't be strong themselves.

That is, indeed, what we are about!

We do have one major change after Easter, one to do with technology. I have stated this time and time again, and now we are getting there. After Easter, you will all be required to have a device, whether a laptop, ipad, tablet, or whatever, in the lesson. The teachers will not be able to provide you with one from a trolley. There are 4 ways you can do this:

Bring in your own device. This is by far the best option, in truth, as it's yours, then, and you know how it works. Your parents will need to check their home insurance, but it is usually possible to add this to most policies.

If you don’t have one, then your parents can lease one through the school. ParentMail letters went out a few weeks ago about this & for about £10 per month, you can have a device to use, with insurance included & it is yours to keep.

Or your parents can loan a device from the school. These cannot be taken home, however, but will be yours, personally, for your use during the day.

Or, finally, you can go to Mr Thow or Mr Connor and book out a device for use. This can only by at the start of school, or during break or lunch, however, and will not be a personal device - you will be given what is available.

But not having a device will not be accepted and will be followed up with a consequence, the same as if you had forgotten a pen or pencil. This technology is your future in work & we are building systems to help you have that important edge when it comes to it.
For details of the school's reason why we are insisting that students have devices in lessons, please read the following blog: