So what is in a name? This weekend we were visited by Storm Ciara. In 2015, the UK Met Office launched the "Name Our Storms" campaign, in the hope of raising public awareness of severe weather. A storm is named when it has the potential to trigger an amber/orange or red warning and have "substantial" impact. The warning system is based on potential impacts from severe weather and the likelihood of such events happening. It takes into account include the time of year, the location - is the stormy weather hitting an area of high population which would again have an effect on more people? A list of names of storms are compiled from names chosen by the public. Storms are named in alphabetical order but we have not gone further than K - Storm Katie, which hit the UK on Easter Monday 2016. So, if your name starts with a letter towards the end of the alphabet it is highly unlikely ever to be used.
Unlike Storm Ciara, the coronavirus, that has infected thousands of people, closed borders and put parts of China into lockdown does not yet have a proper name. It has also been given the temporary title 2019-nCoV. To try to distinguish this particular virus, scientists have been calling it the novel or new coronavirus - named for their crown-like spikes when viewed through a microscope. The task of formally naming the virus is the responsibility of the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses (ICTV). To avoid a backlash against members of particular religious or ethnic communities, create unjustified barriers to travel, commerce and trade, and trigger needless slaughtering of food animals the ICTV name for the new coronavirus will not include geographical locations, people's names, the name of an animal or a kind of food or references to a particular culture or industry.
As you will be aware from previous editions of WeLink the Willink has been designated a national Maths Hub – but up to this point the designation has been “South West 5”. The task of formally naming the Maths Hub is the responsibility of the DfE and the National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics. Following consultation with students, our maths staff and the NCETM, our new name was released last week. The name must be linked to maths education, avoid any link to the lead school i.e. Willink, be easy to say, avoid copyright, not be confused with other commercial enterprises or have connotations detrimental to the school. So, in September we shall be the lead school for the Mobius Maths Hub. The Mobius strip or band, is a surface with only one side (when embedded in three-dimensional Euclidean space) and only one boundary. Its discovery is attributed to the German mathematicians August Ferdinand Möbius in 1858. If you google "Maths Hubs UK" and then "find my hub" it will provide a list and the website for each Hub. The Mobius Maths Hub will leading maths education and subject leadership currently covered by the Boolean Hub (Bristol) and Bucks, Berks and Oxon Hub (based in High Wycombe).
It is more than three years ago now that Ofsted (the schools’ inspectorate) began recruiting practising Heads to undertake inspection work. In undertaking this work it is a real privilege to meet and discuss with staff their work in their context. Following the publication of the new Ofsted Framework in September, one area of heated debate on inspection is the curriculum – a pertinent discussion point for us in a week when we have our Year 9 Options Evening and discussion in many homes turn to curriculum choice.
Sir Dan Moynihan, leader of the Harris Federation Academies Trust, is concerned that schools are being marked down for running GCSEs over three years rather than two. He told The Times last week that a wider curriculum for an extra year was fine for “SW1” but not for disadvantaged children. “For many of our children qualifications are all they have in their hands at a job interview or college application and beyond,” he said. “They have no networks, no contacts, no professional people in their family to help them on in life. Their GCSEs are crucial. Ofsted is valuing curriculum over qualifications.” Replying on Radio 4, Ofsted’s Sean Harford argument was that it must be better to focus more on the stuff of learning – the depth and breadth of what we teach children – and less on test and exam results, which are heavily dependent upon prior attainment and disadvantage.
It would certainly seem logical that if we focus on what we teach and how we teach it, then we ensure that all children have a common entitlement to a broad and rich curriculum, and logic would suggest that a great curriculum, which is planned and taught well, is also more likely to lead to successful results in tests and exams. However, the government has busily been reforming GCSEs over the past few years in order to deliberately make them more difficult and content-heavy. So, it is not wholly unsurprising if some schools decide to give pupils three years to prepare for GCSEs. Further, those schools choosing to become academies were promised autonomy over the curriculum. School Leaders, the narrative went, are best placed to make the decision on behalf of their pupils and their communities, not officials in Whitehall. It would seem a bit unfair if inspectors then takes a dim view of this practice.
In reality, the balance between curriculum breadth and GCSE preparation is a fine judgement that is likely to change from school to school depending on what works best for their students. At Willink when I’m asked when GCSEs start, I usually reply in year 7! This is to emphasise that building the blocks of learning, securing learning and addressing misconceptions takes time. But we do believe the curriculum should be well-balanced and be as broad as possible for as long as possible enabling pupils to flourish and achieve their full academic and personal potential.
I do hope you had an enjoyable festive break.
We welcome new staff to Willink this term: Mr Fido (Head of Computing) and Mrs Elston (French and German). We wish thema happy, rewarding and successful experience with us. To support our language curriculum we have also called upon the services of Mrs Andrews and Mrs Smith two of our cover supervisors, bothwith language degrees. We also welcome, from maternity leave, the return of Mrs Miller as cover supervisor. They all start at an extremely busy time of year with much to pack into a very short (6 week) term.
Of interest to our readers will be the outcome of the Parent Survey that took place in December during Learning Review Day. It is reassuring to receive such high levels of confidence from parents with over 90% satisfaction in all but one category - that of helping pupils to have a healthy lifestyle. We shall reflect on this. Please see the attached results summary. 43 of the 610 respondents felt home to school communication is less than good, so we shall also need to work on this. Just before the Christmas break we heard via Facebook about an incident alleged to have happened in school. Despite the Facebook conversation saying we had monitored the incident via CCTV and were successfully dealing with it, we were not aware of the incident, had not dealt with it and in the end we could not find evidence of it happening! So the message from this bizarre incident is: please do continue to provide feedback and do communicate with us directly.
Should you wish to contact a member of staff, please email: email@example.com and in the subject line put FAO and the teacher’s name. This will allow your enquiry to be directed to the right person and we can monitor responses. We remind parents, however, that it is not always possible to respond immediately, due to other commitments including teaching, but we will respond by the following working day.
May I wish all our readers all the very best for 2020!
Welcome to the festive edition of WeLink. There has been a lot going on since the last
edition – not just in the world of politics! We have held Learning Review Day – the review of which I shall write about in January. Our school production We Will Rock You ran for three nights; the cast were wonderful and we thank our drama, music, technical and admin teams for putting on a brilliant performance. On Friday Year 7 visited the Pantomime – an important element in building cultural capital! We were also visited by detention team Chase, Jasper and Rosie. Our furry friends went in every class, met every student and criss-crossed cupboards, lockers and toilets. Assistant Head, Mr Ballantyne who accompanied one team put on 8000 steps! Nothing was found. We shall repeat the exercise sometime in the year to support our effort to keep the school drugs free.
This week our festivities continue with our Celebration of Success when our recently released Year 13s return for an informal gathering to meet up with each other and their old teachers and share stories of life post Willink. We also hold our Christmas Carol Service at St Mary’s Burghfield on Wednesday and our Senior Citizens Concert on Thursday.
As is normal there are some staff changes at the end of term: Mrs Collen is leaving teaching to join the education wing of the Berkshire Fire & Rescue Service whilst Mr Price leaving us as Head of Computing to lead Leighton Park School’s computing department. We thank them for their services and wish them all the very best for the future. Fortunately, have secured replacements for their roles for January – probably the worst time to recruit. We are also delighted to announce that we have permanently appointed Mrs Fiorin as our
Finance Manager having overseen that role since Mrs Adye left in November. This means we shall be looking to appoint a Finance Officer – full details are on the school’s website.
Finally, please remember that school closes at 12.40pm on Friday. I would like to take this opportunity to wish you a peaceful Christmas and look forward to welcoming students back to school on Monday 6th January 2020.
At an ASCL Conference this week, representing West Berks secondary headteachers, I sat near two Heads representing Hillingdon and Islington who reported a notable recent rise in knife crime, drugs and gang culture in their neighbourhoods. Whilst concerns are on the rise here too, I was struck by the scale of the incidents they were recounting. So, with this backdrop we hope that parents who came to our Parent Information Evening this week on County Lines found it informative, if a little depressing. This was an education drama performance from Alter Ego creative solutions about child criminal exploitation in secondary schools throughout Thames Valley. Whilst on a different scale to parts of London (where the lines often begin), we are aware that our students are vulnerable to being exploited - particularly with respect to drugs. We do have a clear policy and procedures on drugs and whilst we work ceaselessly to support individuals and families we are determined to keep the Willink a safe place free from drugs.
On a different theme, we are in the middle of a busy few weeks – and not just for politicians! Students across the school have been reflecting on their achievements and progress since September in preparation for Learning Review Day. In addition to the three-way conversations with tutors and parents, students in years 7-11 undertake Independent Learning Projects at home during LRD. These ILPs develop skills in research, organisation, time management and application - skills which are appraised when they return to school. As for year 11s, whether in school or home, they have a carefully crafted revision programme for their pre-public exams which begin on Monday. These exams will provide them and their teachers with valuable information – not just what they understand (or not) but also on revision organisation and techniques – and how to help support them moving forward towards GCSEs in the summer.
Learning Review Day is also the day when we ask parents and carers whilst visiting the school to complete our annual Parent Survey, providing us feedback on how well we are doing. This provides us with a large number of responses – rather more than Parent Voice. But please feedback using this link too! We will report back findings and actions arising from the Parent Survey in the New Year.
A rather more uplifting drama performance is taking place at 7pm on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday this week - our School Production We Will Rock You – a jukebox musical based on the songs of Queen with a book by Ben Elton. We hope to see you then. It promises to be a great evening out.
Last week we held an Employers Evening – our inaugural careers fair. We hosted a couple of dozen exhibitors including from higher and further education, police and other public services, armed forces, high-tech firms including Microsoft, the NHS, local government, dentistry and law firms, and AWE. Following this success, we now intend to hold the event annually. If you were unable to attend this time around it is certainly one for the diary.
We also used the week, Anti-bullying Week, to reinforce the message with our students that the Willink School has zero tolerance of bullying. Our approach is outlined in our policy which can be found on our website. Parents may be interested in our online 'Report and Restore' function which allows students to report incidents electronically should they wish to instead of reporting direct to staff. However, students can also report issues in person to their tutor, teachers, Head of Learning, Pastoral Assistants, Inclusion Mentors or any other member of staff.
Also, last week, we received the following reminder from the Department of Education about the strictures placed on schools during the run up to an election:
“During this period of heightened political activity and sensitivity, you should ensure your school and staff avoid activity that could be construed as partisan or favouring a particular political party.
You should not use school ICT facilities for the distribution of political material, including that produced by third parties, either within the area of the school site or beyond.
Local-authority-maintained schools’ delegated budgets are only for any purposes of the school or such purposes as prescribed in regulations. Schools should not use their budget for other purposes”.
All of this is, of course, eminently sensible. We certainly encourage all candidates to come meet our students, particularly those in the Sixth Form. I guess the reminder is a sign of how education is never far away from the political surface. After all, in the last general election a survey of 1,000 parents of schoolchildren conducted by YouGov ranked education alongside health and Brexit as the most important election issues. And, of the 43 per cent who named education as a prime issue, four out of five said they were more likely to vote for candidates who would tackle school funding. Since when – despite recent spending promises of £7.1 billion on schools – the funding crisis across education has unquestionably deepened. It is important that the education sector is heard during the general election debate – loud, clear and, of course, strictly impartial.
Finally a reminder about the Parent Information Evening, this Thursday at 6.30 – 7.15pm in the School Hall. During this event, senior leader, Dave Green will explain flight-paths, Attitude to Learning reports, target grades and Learning Review Day reports. All parents are welcome, but it will be very useful for Year 7 parents and those new to Willink.
I do hope that you found some downtime last week and are recharged ready for the run up to Christmas! Some schools of course, have had an extended break in October. At Willink we take the view, to maximise the time for exam classes in lessons, that time should be added to the summer break rather than in the autumn. If you were caught out this time, and it is school policy not to authorise holidays out of term time, may I recommend checking term dates on our website. To suit our needs our school holidays often differ slightly to the term dates publicised by West Berkshire.
If you missed out on last term’s Parent Information Evening on young people and the effect of screen time on their cognitive and emotional development or, indeed, the use and abuse of social media, they please check out our advice on the website. For the diary, this term’s PIE is on Thursday 21st November and will be on the curriculum and assessment, focusing primarily on key stage 3.
Finally, having mentioned Christmas, please do use the SchoolAngel tab on our website to access your online shopping and raise funds for the school; every little helps!
Finally, we have been given the go-ahead by the DfE to publicise our designation as a Maths Hub. In case you missed last weeks press release and article in the Newbury Weekly News, here it is in full:
The Willink School, Burghfield Common, has been selected as a Maths Hub Lead school for the South West of England following a successful bid to the Department for Education (DfE). Maths Hubs help schools and colleges lead improvement in mathematics education in England. They harness all the maths leadership and expertise in primary, secondary and post 16 sectors within an area to develop and spread excellent practice to continually improve the level of teaching for this key subject. There are 37 Maths Hubs that together, serve all the regions of England. Each Maths Hub is a partnership, led locally by an outstanding school or college or Teaching School. The lead school identifies strategic partners, who help plan and evaluate the hub’s work, and operational partners, who help carry out the hub’s work. Essentially, The Willink will be a maths leadership network centre involving schools, colleges and other organisations with maths education expertise from across it’s dedicate area.
Peter Fry, Head at The Willink said: “The Willink is both delighted and proud to have been selected to be the Lead School for a new Maths Hub serving schools in Wiltshire, Swindon, West Berkshire, Reading, Wokingham and Bracknell Forest. Becoming a Maths Hub builds on our excellence in maths, but also the partnerships created to improve initial teacher training, providing support for local schools and professional development. The new Maths Hub will begin work in summer 2020 and we are looking forward to working in partnership with schools across the whole hub area.” Dominic Boeck, West Berkshire’s Executive Member for Education said: “This is a very exciting opportunity for The Willink that will go on to provide endless opportunities for developing and sharing of best practice that will benefit a great number of pupils and students.”
This year we are shadowing the work of the Boolean Maths Hub, based in Bristol, and the Berks, Bucks and Oxon (BBO) Maths Hub, based in Hugh Wycombe, before we are fully fledged ourselves and take over areas previously catered for by them. We shall need a new name, facilities and create some new posts. So exciting times!
Avid WeLink readers will be familiar with my account of the dire funding situation for schools that has materialised over the last four or five years. The government’s recent commitment to increase school funding by £7.1 billion is a welcome recognition of this underfunding. That said, about 80% of schools will still have less money per pupil in 2020 in real terms than they did when the cuts began to bite in 2015, and a further £2.5bn is required to reverse the cuts, particularly in post 16 education and special educational needs – to support the most vulnerable children and young people in the education system.
Happily the Willink is on track to come out of deficit in April 2020. However, we shall need to be prudent and consider carefully our spending priorities. One of those priorities is books for the Learning Resource Centre and maintenance of our IT infrastructure. This links to our Sponsored Walk – can we please ask that any outstanding money raised is sent into school by the end of this week.
On a similar theme, may I remind parents of the painting and decorating morning on Saturday 19th October. The day begins at 9.00am with breakfast and finishes by 12.30pm. Brushes, rollers, paint and refreshments are provided! All help is gratefully received. If you are able to come along please contact the school office – this helps us to plan the day.
We also invite parents and students (and parents of prospective Willink students) to our Parent Information Evening this Thursday at 6.30pm to see "Screenagers: Growing Up in the Digital Age". Screenagers is a thought-provoking, award-winning film which explores aspects of family life. It depicts conflict over social media and video games and includes insights from expert psychologists, scientists and academics. The film offers solutions over how we, and our children, can better navigate the digital world. It will certainly help family discussions on the theme!
Finally, please look out for information regarding Milestone Assessments and Homework which will be sent out with this week’s Parent Digest.
It is has probably happened too early to call it an Indian Summer, but I hope you have enjoyed it. We certainly took full advantage of the weather for our Sponsored walk on Thursday last. One thousand students and staff undertook the 6 mile walk across the “wilderness” of the Ufton countryside. All safely returned. It is a great social activity and good for the mind, chatting with students and staff in a completely different setting. Last year it was “hike for hygiene”, this year “books and bulbs” – raising funds for our Learning Resource Centre (not just books) and bulbs ….. digital bulbs and kit to maintain and develop our IT network and resources. Remember, this year we are claiming gift aid on monies received. I shall keep you posted with the fund-raising in subsequent editions of WeLink.
Our Open Evening on Thursday was very successful too and it was great to see so many students willing to give up time as subject ambassadors or tour guides. Feedback from visitors said they were great. Of course, visiting the school while in session is just as important. Monday mornings are set aside for tours this term, but tours can be arranged for any time by making an appointment. For September 2020 we believe about 50 places will be available to students living outside our catchment.
During Open Evening I did have a discussion with a parent of a prospective future Willink student about the value of learning a language and whether students should take a language to GCSE. Last week a British Council report revealed a 19% reduction in entries for GCSE languages in 2019 and a 54% reduction in undergraduates studying languages in the last decade. Whilst it is true that languages are difficult, that on average nationally students gain one grade lower in their language GCSE than other GCSEs (explains why it is extremely difficult to gain a top grade), that Britain is the worst country in Europe for language learning, that our students’ average grades would be higher if they did not study a language ……….. we believe a curriculum with a strong language element is the right curriculum for most students. As the debate around Brexit continues and changes are brewing in politics, trade and immigration, having a population that speaks more than one language could become increasingly important. Who knows, when Brexit finally concludes, people across Europe may be less inclined to make their second language English! Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders recently said “we need to rejuvenate language learning in Britain, and remember that being part of an international community, being able to communicate with people from other nations, matters”. By half term, a third of our year 7s will embark on their study of Mandarin, with the rest of year 7 to follow later in the year. Mandarin will join French, German and Spanish as our fourth language and the Mandarin Club starts next week. WeLink shall keep you posted on these developments too.
Welcome to the autumn term at the Willink. An even warmer welcome if you are a first time student or parent new to Willink. May I just remind parents that they should also be receiving our weekly Parent Digest that keeps you up to date with all the events and happenings at Willink. Please do contact the school office if you are not in receipt.
I do not want to repeat the content of my letter sent to you last week, suffice to say we are up and running with a full complement of staff. There were a few teething problems with our new catering service, mainly to do with students wishing to buy food without money in their accounts, but also the speed of service as staff come to terms with the new system. However, all feedback on the quality of food and new facilities has been extremely positive!
I hope you were able to catch the headlines concerning our excellent examination results through the media and via my “welcome back” letter. If this missed you by please view the details on our website. Early results analysis indicate our results at GCSE (86% grade 4+ in English and mathematics) were amongst the highest of non-selective schools in Berkshire; analysis also predicts a strong Progress 8 score of +0.37.
In my last piece for WeLink I said I would write about the school’s trip to Moldova in July, the school’s 15th trip, my first. There is more on this trip within this edition, but the trip, masterminded by Clare Downey, epitomises the Willink spirit and our moto “Village School, global outlook”. During the trip our students, great ambassadors for both the school and country, led a 5 day summer school, in two village schools for 150 students - of lessons in maths, technology, creative arts and sport. They undertook meals on wheels for the elderly, completed painting and decorating in the school and lived with families in our host village. Each day our students were challenged and learnt generic skills of leadership, organisation, resilience, initiative and communication. The Eon Creaga School and the local community too gain a great deal from our visit – a cultural exchange and greater international understanding. This year the trip hosted a visit by the British Ambassador to Moldova and a visit from Moldovan & Romanian TV. I am privileged to have taken part. It makes one reflect on your own values. It was also wonderful to spend time with some of our fantastic students. The Moldova trip is just one example of the great opportunities provided for our students by Willink staff.
There are two final items from me. Firstly a reminder of this years’ Sponsored Walk on Thursday 19th September – the theme is “books and bulbs”, raising money for our Library, reading and IT equipment. Money spent on these resources enable us to continue our recent improvements in school facilities and accommodation. Secondly, an early “heads up” about our first Painting and Decorating Day on Saturday 19th October. If you are available please reserve your place on the painting team by contacting the school office.
I hope that I shall see you at one of the “settling into the year” evenings or with brush in hand!
I am writing this piece prior to participating in our annual Sixth Form trip to Moldova. I am a fresher on this trip, a trip, however, that has now been running for 15 years - over which time we have built very close ties with the school and village community in Tinareni. I shall look forward to reporting on my trip in September’s edition of WeLink. As you will see in this final edition of WeLink for this academic year, there has been a great number of wonderful events in recent weeks including the Year 11 and Year 13 proms, a Media Showcase, Creative Arts Showcase, Sports Day and Monday’s Prize-giving. There have also been trips, not least during activities week to Harry Potter World, Paris and the Y7 Bushcraft.
Since the last edition of WeLink we also underwent close scrutiny from Ofsted who piloted their new inspection framework on us. This was a good developmental experience and because it was a trial the inspectors were senior HMI and obviously keen to test the framework to the full. It was quite intense at times for everyone who was involved. Whilst there is no judgement there were a lot of very positive messages and there were no surprises in the recommended steps. It is to the staff's huge credit that they volunteered (or press ganged!) to go through this trial and demonstrates their professionalism and commitment that they have to ensuring The Willink is at the leading edge of change. The experience will be invaluable to moving the school forward.
We have also just heard that we have bee reaccredited with the International Schools Award for the period 2019/20-2021/22. This is a great accolade for the school and is awarded for the outstanding development of the international dimension in the curriculum across the humanities, creative arts and languages. My thanks to Mr Debuire and Mrs Hiscock who masterminded the application.
Finally, from me, as is usual this time of year, an update on staffing. For the last week of the term we welcome back from maternity leave Mrs Friend and Mrs Lawrence. We thank Mrs Bowen-Davies (PSRE) and Ms Rohweder (Music) for covering in their absence. We are also saying farewell to Mrs Ballard and Mrs Rogers from MFL as we welcome back Mrs Grimshaw from maternity leave in September. Mrs Hobbs (Art and Head of Learning) will be leaving us for the year on maternity leave. We shall also be saying our good-byes to Mr McCormack, who is moving to Sir John Hampton Grammar School in High Wycombe as Head of Year, Mrs Symonds-Keates who is moving to teach history at Farnborough Hill School, and Mr Golding, who is moving to Park House School, where he has taught before, as Assistant Head. Mrs Price, is retiring as Library Resource Centre Manager after almost 6 years at Willink.
Finally, we shall be parting company with Mrs Murtagh. Sarah Murtagh first joined Willink in 2000 and has been Second in Science and Head of Learning, most latterly for Year 10. The science department will be very sorry to see her leave.
We wish all our summer leavers all the very best. Fortunately, we do have a full complement of teaching staff for September. I shall introduce them to you in September’s edition of WeLink.
May I wish you all a great summer. Please remember, if you are purchasing new uniform to refer to the uniform reminder letter which will be sent out this week. We welcome the whole school back on Thursday 5th September and year 7 and year 12 only on Wednesday 4th.
Mr Fry, Head
It is not often that schools are invited to the Department of Education to present. On Friday 14th June, Aysha Stone and Laura Teague from our Maths Department with Kavashni Bamfield from Falkland Primary in Newbury were invited to the DfE to attend an interview and present on our plans to become a Maths Hub. Outstanding schools and Teaching Schools with excellence in mathematics were invited to put in a bid and five schools were selected for interview. The aim of the Maths Hub is to co-ordinate and disseminate excellence in teaching and leading mathematics, – particularly with regard to a mastery approach to teaching maths, across local authorities from Bracknell in the east to Swindon and Devises in the west. Kavashni is a specialist maths teacher and the bid includes developing maths in both secondary and primary phases. We should know if we have been successful by the end of term. If we are not successful in the bid, the experience puts down a marker as to the quality of maths at Willink, but we shall still continue to support maths teaching across our partnerships.
Mrs A Stone, Mr P Fry, Mrs K Bamfield and Miss L Teague before the DfE Interview
A year ago I wrote about our Ofsted inspection. This week Ofsted visit are will us again! In September there is a new Ofsted Inspection framework and this term Ofsted have been trialling it in a number of schools across country. During Wednesday and Thursday this week we shall be working collaboratively with the Ofsted team to test the new inspection framework.
During this pilot, inspectors will gather a range of evidence across the judgement areas in the new framework. The pilot is likely to include many of the usual types of inspection activity, including visits to lessons, scrutiny of a range of documentation, discussions with middle and senior leaders, staff, governors and pupils and so on, but also looking at the workings of the curriculum in a lot more detail. There will not be a written report and the outcome will not affect our Ofsted grade. However, the visit will allow us to showcase what we are about, reflect on what we do and help us set our development priorities. In addition, we shall be asked for our feedback on the framework and how the inspectors went about their business.
I shall update you on these development in a following edition of WeLink.
Last week we were visited by architects just to get their bearings before submitting plans for a new teaching block which we hope will be available to us for September 2020. Whilst we acknowledge the school does need to grow – over 200 will join us in September in year 7 replacing a year 11 group of 170 – it is our determination that our vision, ethos and “village school” culture will remain unchanged.
With the increase in numbers and a desire to improve our offer to pupils – something the School Council has repeatedly asked – we shall have new catering facilities for September. On a week when Nadhim Zahawi MP Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children and Families, wrote to schools urging them to provide a positive lunchtime experience, I can report that in September payment will be cashless and there will be a wider range of quality food at affordable prices. There will be considerable investment in equipment over the summer (some of the present kit looks like it is out of the 70s!) to support efficiency and expansion - and there will be the installation of an external pod in the courtyard and a coffee shop in the Sixth Form to provide additional service points. The eating areas in the hall, in the Sixth Form and outside seating will also be vastly improved. There will be a focus on reducing plastic, waste management/recycling and healthy eating. We are eagerly awaiting these developments. We shall provide more information for parents before the end of term, including how to set up cashless payments.
In other news, last week we held our final Parent Forum & Information Evening of the year. The theme was drugs awareness with PC Tim Emery delivering a short presentation about County Lines. This is a topical issue frequently referred to in the national press. Whilst the growth in drugs use is associated with large urban areas in reality its devastating effects extend to rural communities like ours. PC Tim Emery defined County Lines, summarised local police activity, discussed the similarities between Child Criminal Exploitation (CCE) and Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) and provided advice for parents on how to deal with the issue in the home and about how the school can work with parents to protect young people. Information and guidance from the evening will be posted on the website under the Parent Forum tab.
Finally, although we gather feedback from parents during the year, if you have not provided your final verdict via Parent Voice for this year, please do so by following this link: Parent Voice. We do value your views!
Both our year 11 and 13 students are now fully in exam mode. We have sent them off with final year group assemblies and celebrations. We shall see them all next at their Proms and for year 11 their Sixth Form induction. We wish them all the best. Staff are here to help, support and advise students and parents during this time.
I thought I’d take this opportunity to update parents on the work of Willink as a Teaching School. We are just over half-way through a three year designated period as a Department of Education Teaching School. We are not sure of the future of Teaching Schools – it is in the laps of government ministers. Many of you will know Aysha Stone as our outstanding, long-standing maths specialist and tutor. In her spare time (ha, ha!) she leads our Teaching School. The Teaching School partnership originally included Hurst, Little Heath, Prospect and Theale Green school – but it has grown wider. In keeping with our motto “village school, global outlook” we do look to develop wider networks, learn from others and be a net contributor to the wider educational system leadership.
There are three aspects to the work of a Teaching School.
Firstly, initial teacher training. If you are thinking of teaching or working with children in schools contact Aysha. We co-ordinate the recruitment of people new to teaching across the partnership – working with the University of Reading with students following the PGCE and those that wish to enter teaching through Schools Direct and apprenticeships.
Secondly, professional development. A good example here is the Aspiring Senior Leaders programme. A dozen colleagues from partnership schools, plus St Bart’s in Newbury and The Wren in Reading are participating in this course which involves work shadowing in other schools in the partnership.
The third aspect is school to school support. This is where expertise in the partnership is deployed to where a particular need is required. A good example is support provided by the Willink maths department to Theale Green to teach maths classes, help structure the curriculum and provide support and advice for a new Head of Department. All schools have areas that can benefit from support.
As for students at Willink, the benefits of being a Teaching School are indirect. At a time of crisis in teacher recruitment, we are better placed than most schools. Our staff are also exposed to development opportunities that enable us to reflect upon and develop our own teaching and leadership. Schools only improve if they continually seek to develop strong practices so being a Teaching School supports Willink’s aim to steadily and sustainably improve.
I do hope you have had an enjoyable extended weekend.
Although students have already sat their art practical and language oral exams the first written GCSE papers start next week. As a parent with boys in years 10 and 12 it is a bit lighter this year, but I do know how fraught the exam period can be. In part preparation for the new GCSEs which are largely assessed through examinations rather than controlled assessments we have introduced exam weeks in years 7 to 9. Through these exam weeks students will become familiar with exams and begin to learn how best to revise. But these are internal exams and we don’t want students (or parents!) to become anxious about them.
With regard to Year 11, our Learning Support Centre team, under Mrs Browning, and Mrs Schofield, Head of Learning, are available for students to see and parents to contact if there are personal issues to be discussed in the run up to and during exams. If you missed our recent Parent Information Evening on “Supporting your child through exam stress” led by Educational Psychologist, Kate Pike her presentation can be found on the school’s website – under the “Parent Forum and Information Evenings”. It makes a good read.
Still with exams, we recently received congratulatory letters from the DfE about the school’s performance in last year’s GCSEs. How slow the wheels turn! The letters can be viewed here.
Some of you may have read there was an article in the Newbury Weekly News on 4th April – just before the Easter break - regarding school funding. Please see the link to read the school’s response to this article and to correct some inaccuracies. In essence the article was about the shortages in school funding and focused on the Willink’s deficit. However, as the source of the report was West Berks Schools Forum, it did not refer to the funding shortages in academies.
Welcome to my last blog of the Spring Term. I do hope in this extraordinary period of political uncertainty and national anxiety, that you do find some time to “chill” over the Easter break. Chilling is important – even for students in years taking external exams. Yes, they need to begin their final revision, but they need to chill too. Chilling is good for us (students, staff, parents and politicians!) when you are overheated, it is crucial when you are over-wrought and it is necessary when you have been over-committed. Holidays give us a good time to be who we are instead of living all the time in the world of what we do and what we achieve – time to chill and reflect. Many retreat into books, painting (artistic or domestic), some deploy under-utilised DIY skills for good or ill. It is different: at its best it is refreshing, it is renewing, it is re-energising. Whatever else it is, it is necessary. As staff we aim to ensure our students in exam years are in the right psychological shape to perform well. This means helping them to know that whatever happens they are valued as people - life is more than outcomes. Willink teachers not only teach the content of what students know, but teach them how to handle the challenges of the test: how to handle panic, how to control irrational fear, how to recall what they know, how to have the stamina to see it through. It is always good to ask each day ‘what did you do yesterday and tell me tomorrow about what you plan today’ – this makes a difference.
As is always the case at the end of term we have some staff changes. Ms Fuller is leaving our Computing Department, Mr Rodriguez is leaving MFL and Mrs Axson is leaving our Finance Office. We wish them all the very best for the future.
Finally, a further reminder about school uniform and jewellery. If you are about to purchase new shoes for your son/daughter – please remember they need to be plain black polishable school shoes. If your son/daughter is about to have a piercing, then please remember just one small stud ear-ring conventionally worn in each ear lobe is allowed. If your son/daughter arrives after half term with alternative piercings they will be asked to remove it and if this is not possible, they will not partake in social time at break or lunch. With regard to hair-cuts, we have a “one head, one hair-cut” rule with no exaggerated steps, lop-sided styles etc; if you are unsure please check the uniform policy.
May I wish you a happy Easter break. We shall see our students back at Willink on Wednesday 24th April.
Last Friday young people across England joined climate change protests. A small delegation from Willink joined the protest march in London. Meanwhile a contingent of our Sixth Form were at the Oxford Union engaged in the European Youth Parliament competition. On Saturday a group of year 8 and 9 were at Reading Magistrates Court competing in the Berkshire “mock trials” competition. So, the question then is how far should our students be engaged in the political and justice systems? At Willink the development of political literacy seeps through the curriculum: for example, citizenship is taught directly through PSRE, environmental issues in geography and science and then there is the enactment of the trial of King Charles1, and a study of the suffragette movement in history. It is not just a body of knowledge or understanding, our students learn the deep-thinking skills of dealing with bias – or “fake news”. We would, of course, not be true to our school motto “village school, global outlook”, particularly at a time when the global outlook is rather bleak, if students did not learn to critically think through information, discuss, debate, participate and, yes maybe, protest within the law. As parents we will no doubt remember the anti-apartheid protests or the pressure to ban CFCs and call off the destruction of the ozone layer. Building a better future through active participation and working together be it on Europe or climate change may be our young people’s calling.
Changing the subject entirely, this week we hold our year 7 parent consultation. In a change to previous editions we have split the year group – TUVW on Tuesday and XYZ on Thursday. This is in recognition of the larger year 7 cohort but also a response to parents who in some year groups last year were unable to make appointments. Although we have considered online booking for parents, the feedback we have received on our current system (some describe it like “speed-dating”) is very positive. If you are a parent of a year 7 pupil please let us know what you think, particularly if you have been unable to make appointments.
It was concerning this week to hear via the BBC news report that modern foreign language (MFL) learning is at its lowest level in UK secondary schools since the turn of the millennium, with German and French falling the most. The BBC analysis shows drops of between 30% and 50% since 2013 in the number of secondary schools dropping at least one language from their GCSE options. Although only 4% of schools are Grammar schools, they account for 8% of state school GCSE entries. Part of the explanation is the drop in the numbers training to become MFL teachers - the pool of talented recruits is smaller at a time when pupil numbers are increasing. I firmly believe if the teaching is inspirational, all students whatever their ability can achieve well in languages. The other reason is that languages are now seen as a high-risk choice by schools, parents and pupils, as many believe it is harder to get a high grade in exams. It is true that MFL exams are harder with the new specs and that pupils on average in state schools achieve one grade less in GCSE languages than they do in their other GCSEs – at Willink we are no different. Incidentally, independent schools have an advantage when it comes to exams in that they can enter students for the relatively easier iGCSE. The more challenging MFL exams affects A level too. However, schools are promised a more level playing field with regard to exam results by 2020 when the outcome of an Ofqual report will result in a re-alignment in grades.
While German and French - the languages of two of the UK's closest trading partners - have really dropped away at GCSE level across England, there has been a noticeable surge in some others, such as Spanish and Mandarin. We shall be adding Mandarin formally to our suite of languages in September.
Business organisations have expressed concern at the lack of language skills in the UK just at a time when they will be in even greater demand post BREXIT. Matthew Fell, Chief UK Policy Director for business group the CBI, said last week: "Employer demand for French, German and Spanish skills have significantly increased over the last few years. The decline in language learning in schools must be reversed, or the UK will be less competitive globally and young people less prepared for the modern world. As well as speaking a foreign language, increasing young people's cultural awareness and their ability to work with people from around the world is just as important." This is a pertinent statement - made just as our trip to Barcelona leaves – a trip that underscores our commitment to bolstering language learning. We also know learning a foreign language strengthens our students’ credentials for future careers, to become more competitive when applying for apprenticeships or university places.
So, should The Willink join many other schools and reduce the importance of languages? Every year we review our curriculum to consider if it still is right for our students and meets the criteria we set out in our policy (see website). Our conclusion? We think the vast majority of our students should experience languages and take at least one to GCSE level within a broad and balanced curriculum.
What to do with smartphones was a lead story this week. Nick Gibb the minister for school standards in England said that schools should ban their pupils from bringing in smartphones. Meanwhile the UK’s chief medical officers said parents should ban smartphones from the dinner table and bedtimes. At Willink we have said for many years now that whilst we accept that students have phones with them (and many parent want this), they are not (with the exception of the Sixth Form) to be used around the school site during the school day. We do remove devices if they are used without permission during school time. That said there are excellent revision apps we use - ask your Y10 or Y11 children about the PiXL apps ……… but not over dinner time! We recommend the ClassCharts app too! If you are concerned about your child’s use of social media please refer to our information letter first issued last January .
In other news we, of course, held our “Snow Day” last Friday. We had a couple of enquiries about why the snow led to the school closure. Snow does, of course, cause a health and safety risk on site – but assuming snow falls overnight and there is no further snow forecast we can clear the site, perhaps delaying the start of the school day. However, the biggest issue is staffing. We have staff coming in from as far away as Hungerford, Slough, Didcot and Winchester. If we cannot secure sufficient levels of staffing then we cannot open. In addition there is the issue of welfare of staff driving such distances in adverse weather conditions. The decision to close is never taken without due deliberation. On this occasion, given the later blockages to the M3, A34, gridlock in Basingstoke, and treacherous local roads, we believe the decision to close was the right one.
Finally, have you noticed how smart Y11s are? This week we held our Mock Results Day and Sixth Form Interviews. Over 70 interviews were completed in two days with a further day and interviews for external candidates to come. Students were asked to wear appropriate attire for an interview. The Sixth Form team who conducted the interviews reported students’ prepared, positive and punctual!
Two items of news stood out to me last week. The first was The Queen’s message referring to and encouraging simple recipes such as “speaking well of each other and respecting different points of view; coming together to seek out the common ground; and never losing sight of the bigger picture”. The second was the very worrying report that five per cent of UK adults do not believe the Holocaust took place and one in 12 believe its scale has been exaggerated. At Willink we do take seriously our role in educating about the past and projecting values of respect, tolerance and equality. Last week we commemorated Holocaust Memorial Day with Year 9 participating in a streamed national presentation on the Holocaust. We also, building our international credentials, hosted all week a group of students from the Admiral Farragut Academy, Tianjin, China. Students and staff together learnt about each other’s customs, language and cuisine. Our present plan is to visit China again at Easter 2020.
In all the Brexit news you may have missed last week’s publication of school performance tables. You can access this information direct from the Department of Education website or via our website – please look up DfE Performance Tables (you can look up any school from this link). Of course, this information tells you only part of the picture of a school. The annual parent survey carried out during Learning Review Day, with a sample of 625 parental responses tells us a great deal (see attached document). Pupils’ enjoyment of school, school-home communication and quality of co-curricular activities have improved, whilst parents’ understanding of our assessment and reporting has dropped a little to the mid 90% satisfaction. Overall satisfaction levels are in the high 90% and we thank you for the trust and support you have in us. The school’s promotion of a healthy lifestyle remains greatest concern – something we are working on through our re-focused tutor programme.