Saturday, 8 November 2014

Founders Day 2014

I know it's been a very long time since I last blogged, but I will claim mitigating circumstances - getting the school into our brand new building has taken some considerable effort & focus. I hope I will be forgiven for the lapse.
Anyhow, the first blog of this new year is the Founders' Day speech I gave last week. We were delighted to welcome the Mayor of Halton and our guest of honour was the High Sheriff of Cheshire, Mrs Susan Sellers.

High Sheriff, Mayor, Ladies & Gentlemen, Welcome to Sandymoor School! 

Thank you all for coming tonight, to this, our third Founders’ day, our Second Prize-Giving ceremony & but importantly, or first Founders Day & Prize-Giving in our brand new building! 

Standing here, talking to you clearly marks for the school the end of the beginning. It has been a long journey, but we are now firmly established as a high quality educational establishment, helping to provide a broad and balanced education to the students of Halton & surrounding areas. 

An awful lot has happened in the last 12 months, and not just the obvious! We have, in some ways, changed massively, but in others, we are just the same. One of the things I am so proud of is the ethos and atmosphere that exists in the school. Everyone who visits us comments on just what a nice, relaxing and welcoming environment there is! And every time we send out groups of students on trips, visits or competitions, everyone says what wonderful confident, polite young people Sandymoor Pupils are. 

And for me, that says it all & says what a good job we are doing here. So, to our students, first and foremost, thank you! This evening is a celebration of everything you have achieved in the last 12 months. 

Unfortunately, the nature of events like this means that I can’t really end there, however. There is still a lot to be said and celebrated. 

A warm welcome is extended to our Guest of Honour, High Sheriff of Cheshire, Mrs Susan Sellers - Thank you for attending, handing out our prizes and speaking. I look forward to hearing what you have to say! 

Also, a warm welcome to The Worshipful the Mayor of Halton, Councillor Shaun Osborne and Lady Mayoress. It is nice to have the strong link with the local council, as we firmly believe that we are better together, working in partnership to support the young people of the area. Thank you for taking the time to join us.

I would also like to extend a warm welcome to our other guests - As we are in clear site of the world-renowned Daresbury Science and Innovation Centre, it is good to welcome John Leake; we already have worked closely with the campus in the past & I look forward to stronger links as the school grows and develops. 

It is also good to see friends from Kier, our main contractor and Halliday Meecham, the architects, who together helped design and see to realisation this amazing building. 

And a final warm welcome to Mike Foy,  Sally Pearson & Simon Wearing, from the Education Funding Agency, our paymaster, no less!

But also, a warm welcome is extended to the parents, carers, grandparents, aunties and uncles, brothers, sisters, et al, here with us! Thank you for all the support you have extended to us - we do strive to work in close partnership with you in the journey that is education.

I’ve said it before, but do not tire in saying that I consider myself the luckiest man alive - to lead any school is a huge privilege, but to be responsible for being the founding Principal of Sandymoor is an honour I am humbled by. I am blessed to be supported by an amazing team of professionals, without whom, we would be nothing. Last year, I named each and every one, but we have already grown too large for that! Let me just say to every one of them thank you. I know I ask a lot of all of you, and thank you so much for rising to the challenge. 

As Founders’ Day is a marker, where the school takes a pause and recognises where it stands; an annual ‘health check’, so to speak, I need to provide some detail;

The move into this building sees us grow again, with 177 pupils currently on roll, and 39 staff in total, supporting the education of our young people. 

Last year I said that we are truly comprehensive and we still are. This is one of the strengths of Sandymoor School and something we are proud of. Using government speak for a moment, we have students from every socioeconomic status and it is wonderful to see students from different backgrounds mixing and getting on. 

It is by sharing with and understanding people from different backgrounds to our own that we break down prejudice and grow in tolerance. 

At Sandymoor, we hold our students to high standards of behaviour and personal responsibility & it is wonderful to see them step up to these standards the vast majority of the time.

Whilst it is not the be-all and end-all, there is no doubt that Ofsted hold the measure of school quality and an Ofsted report does say a lot about a school. It will never tell the whole story, but, despite frequently being put down by the profession, Ofsted does have a very rigorous framework for inspecting schools in the country and does provide a very clear headline measure of the quality of a school.

We were pleased to welcome a team from Ofsted into the school back last January and it was very good to have them confirm our views on our school. Ofsted rated Sandymoor School a ‘Good’ school with ‘Outstanding’ Leadership & Management. It was a very intense time, as anyone in education will acknowledge, but hugely important and worthwhile. 

I am pleased, in particular, with a number of key elements about why Sandymoor is special:

From the report: "The quality of teaching is good overall, and some is outstanding.” 

In fact, last year, as part of our formal performance management, 71% of lessons observed were good or better by Ofsted criteria and none were graded inadequate. 

From the report: “The majority of students are meeting or exceeding the ambitious targets set by their teachers.” 

We do, indeed, have very ambitious targets for our students, with the expectation that they will aim to achieve a full level’s progress each year, against the national average last year of less that 60% making ⅔ level’s progress per year. Over ¾ of our students last year made or exceeded our ambitious targets, regardless of background or starting point; a real testament to the dedication of the team. 

From the report: “Behaviour in all areas of the school is very impressive. Students are polite, friendly and supportive of each other’s learning. Students feel safe and secure in school.” 

When high standards are expected of young people, they more often than not rise to the challenge. It is a shame that the league table mentality and accountability frameworks that exist in education today have led to a reduction in expectations and a lowering of standards in an attempt to meet targets, rather than aspiring for the very best. At Sandymoor, we do not believe in lowering the bar to ensure we reach it, but we hold high standards & expectations and strive to exceed them at all times. To paraphrase from one of my favourite films, Now Voyager, Aim for the moon, because even if you miss, you end up amongst the stars!

And our students like coming to school. Last year, we had an impressive 96% attendance overall, putting us one of the very best schools in the country for this. And this is even though we have a longer school day; as I said on our open evening, with our longer school day, a Sandymoor student experiences a month’s worth more of lessons than in any other Secondary School over the course of a year.

A couple quotes from our Foundation 1 (Year 7) pupils, who we are interviewing to ensure they are happy and feel safe in school:
When asked 'are you enjoying Sandymoor School up to now?'

"I really like this school because it's not like stressful and stuff.  All the teachers are nice and no one is mean to anyone and we all get on"

"Its a good school because all the teachers are really nice.  They make it clear on the work you've got to do and some teachers don't do that and then you don't know how to do the work" 

And it’s not just in the academic field; as the school’s ethos states, we aim to excel in Science, Technology, Enterprise & Sport. Although small, we have participated in a number of sporting competitions, both formal and informal. We have some very talented sportsmen & women and they have shown themselves to be aspirational in their achievements, holding their own in Athletics, Football & Netball fixtures over the last few months. We are also working at furthering our community links, with support from local Rugby Union teams, local cricket and hosting the new local Sandymoor young football teams!

One of the key priorities the founders set was that Sandymoor should bring a Fresh Approach to Education; something I have held close to my heart at every planning stage of the school’s growth. We do things differently here, but if and only if we believe the old way of doing it doesn’t work. One small example of this is our school uniform. We have a traditional school uniform for our younger students, as you can see; a simple black & white uniform, with the school crest on the blazer pocket. With newspaper headlines screaming that some schools put burdens on the home by requiring costly and complex uniforms, we have ensured that this is not a barrier for us. But then, when our students make their option choices at the end of Foundation 2 (or Year 8 in national terms), their uniform changes. We feel that making such life-changing decisions as which qualifications to choose to study requires recognition & as such we then change the uniform so our Pathways students have the option of wearing ‘business attire’ and don’t they look incredibly smart too! I have seen so many young people wearing a suit for the first time to go to an interview and looking so uncomfortable; not our students! 

And we provide leadership opportunities for all students, with our Student Leadership team drawn from all year groups. I would now like to ask our Head Boys & Girls, along with the prefects, to come forward as I read out your names, to receive your prefect badge. We require our prefects to be role models and by wearing this badge you are committing to supporting the school in our aspiration and promise to uphold what we stand for, behaving as examples to your peers. 

Being a Fresh Approach to Education, it is also important to ensure that we are not being insular, and inward looking. Whilst we don’t collect badges, we are pleased to be associated with and be active members of the Specialist Schools & Academies Trust (SSAT), the National Association of Able Children in Education (NACE) and The College of Teachers. We are also extremely pleased to say that we have been awarded the Halton Healthy Schools Standard award, in recognition of the efforts to provide healthy food; congratulations to Paul Timms, our Catering Manager, and his team, for the hard work in getting this award.

We are always looking for opportunities to work in partnership with others and are pleased to announce two major collaborations we are just entering into:

First of all, in recognition of our innovative use of technology within the school, we are to be designated as a Microsoft Global Showcase School; one of only seven schools from the whole of the UK, showing that we are a truly global school, at the cutting edge of ICT in education anywhere in the world. 

And secondly, we are working in partnership with Tarporley High School, who have just been awarded Teaching School status; we are becoming an active member of the Cheshire Vale Teaching School Alliance, a group of schools working together with a shared moral purpose to work to improve the learning and achievement of all young people in the region. 

And that's just the beginning; we have further initiatives in the pipeline, developing links with national leaders in sport and the business community.

But also, we are pleased to announce that we are launching our 6th form from this September; there will be further information coming out later, but we are looking to build on our already excellent provision to provide a post-16 offer for students, with strong links to universities in the area. We are calling our 6th form the Sandymoor Gateway, as it symbolises the gateway to the going people's future!

But finally back to what really matters, the pupils here now and their achievements. I said that this evening was a celebration of them and what they have achieved and so it is. After the Chair of Governors has given his report on the last 12 months, we will be asking students to come forward and receive their certificate from the High Sheriff; these awards are well deserved by the students as we do not believe in prizes for everyone. Each award given is for hard work and dedication by the student who receives it and it is justly deserved. There are a number of categories, starting with recognition of students who have developed and shown the skills required to learn, then those have achieved in academic subjects. This is followed by attendance awards, celebrating those students who never missed a single day last year, and those who have received the most positive reward points over the year. 

We do have two new awards this year; the Sandymoor Endeavour Award, a shield we will award annually to the student who, over the year, has improved the most in a wide range of areas over the year - recognising the journey some of our students make in getting them to where they are. And the Sandymoor Achievement Award, awarded to the pupil who has achieved the most across a wide range of subjects over the year. These trophies will have the pupils’ names engraved on them and will be on show in a display case in the foyer. 

All our pupils have made huge improvements over the year, and all need to be congratulated for their journey, but tonight is a recognition of those who stand out - I hope that they will continue to be role models for all the students at Sandymoor School, both those here now and those who will join the school over the coming years.  

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