Principal’s Blog: End of the Year

This week saw 250 Year 7-9 students disappear into mist and drizzle at 3.15pm in the afternoon – leaving me wondering if I would ever see them again.

This was the Race for Life, a sponsored run organised by staff and students to raise money for cancer relief. Many of the students carried the names of relatives who were affected by cancer and were running in their memory. One student had raised £270 after losing a grandparent to cancer in the term. It was a moving sight to see them all depart onto the wettest, muddiest fun run we have ever seen. It was a relief to see them re-emerge from the mists and thunder across the finishing line for a medal and a glow of satisfaction at beating the weather, the mud, having done something active in the last week of term and hopefully raised more than a £1000 for cancer relief. It was a joy to see our students running and the older ones marshalling the event, providing safety cover and encouraging the younger ones.

This is the time of year when we start to look back at all that has been achieved and all that we have done as a school community in the last 12 months. Every year I reflect that ‘this seems to have been a busy year’ but they do seem to get busier!

Teaching

The pace and extent of government reform of teaching, of examination changes, of curriculum changes, of far reaching alterations to the extent to which schools are held accountable for many aspects of children’s health and wellbeing has certainly accelerated in the last 12 months.

To take one example, the Secretary of State Nicky Morgan has said that 90% of current Year 11 must take GCSEs in English, Maths, two Science subjects, Geography and/or History and a Modern Foreign Language. Currently around 60% of our students will follow a course including all of those subjects. The argument supporting a virtually compulsory academic curriculum on everyone except those with significant special needs or learning difficulties is very persuasive and I think Nicky Morgan is right – but it will not be easy. If we are to compete in a global market our children need to speak a foreign language, they need to be able to write fluently and clearly both about literature and about facts such as in Geography and History. The world is also becoming more technologically advanced and an understanding of Science now becomes vital in order to understand the debates on GM crops, global climate change, what exactly is NOx which VW cars emit in greater than reported quantities, the impact of antibiotic tolerance or the concerns about species diversity. And nobody disputes the need for Maths.

Modern Foreign Languages

But this will not be easy and the hardest area of all is learning another language. There is a culture in this country, which is more pronounced in Cornwall, of believing that if the rest of the world speaks English, why bother learning a language? Parents still say to me ‘my son intends to be an electrician; he does not want to move to France, why does he have to learn French?’ The answer is that the rest of the world will simply leave us behind. We may live on an isolated peninsula of an island off the NW coast of Europe but we are bound by ties that go back more than a thousand years to Spain and Brittany. In the middle ages it was completely normal for Cornish people to speak our own language – Cornish – plus English, plus French or Spanish. Breton and Cornish are effectively the same language anyway and the links between Brittany and Cornwall are very strong. We did so much trade with France and Spain that a working knowledge of the language was useful and just assumed that it would happen.

What has changed since? Why do we tell ourselves that languages are hard (they can’t be, even babies manage to learn) or not for us? Without an expectation and belief in ourselves, we will never achieve anything. So if you have a Year 7 child please tell them that languages are important, that they can learn to speak French or Spanish and that it will be fantastic for them in the future to be able to understand another culture.

The Academy Trust

This year saw the establishment of the Peninsula Learning Trust, an educational charity set up by St Mewan, Carclaze , Mevagissey and ourselves to look for ways of collaborating on improving learning and for savings on ‘back office’ expenses. Later this year Fowey Primary and Lostwithiel also joined and by July of next year, Mount Charles primary and Luxulyan should also be in the Trust.

What have we achieved so far? One example may be Maths. We knew that across the town Maths was our area to get better at teaching. Maths results were in line with national expectation but reading and writing were doing better. We were convinced we could do better at teaching Maths across the primary and secondary sector and set out to find ways to do that. By working together we have managed to research and try out a range of different things and have now settled on a programme that emphasises the basics and which ensures each stage is fully understood before moving on. What this means in practice is that Year 2 will learn addition and subtraction of two digit numbers. They will learn it backwards and inside out. They will fully understand what ‘carrying the one’ actually means and will be able to do the sums accurately, quickly and with complete confidence every time. Only then will the class move onto three digit numbers. This has involved a great deal of re-training of staff and building up new teaching resources but, by schools working together, we can do achieve that more easily and more efficiently. We know that the main reason children don’t get grade C or above in GCSE is a lack of confidence in the basics of subtracting, multiplying and dividing. If we can get our Year 7 arriving confident with numbers, we can build on that to do the advanced skills.

2015

There have been some great moments this year. In January we began to plan the Cornwall School Games, the largest sporting event in Cornwall and one of the largest school games anywhere in Britain. It is a huge logistical challenge for a school to manage all of the 47 different sports at four venues across Cornwall. It was a great opportunity to work with Poltair School who jointly hosted the event with us and it was a resounding success. The work and late nights were all worthwhile to see the excitement and joy on the faces of children who were competing, perhaps for the first time, with children from across the county. Winning was the goal but participating was the reward for our children.

There are so many more things that will remain in our memories from this year. The Wizard of Oz production, the various music and dance showcases, the continued surge in sporting prowess. If this sounds boastful, well it is, our sports teams are now so good that we play the B sides against many competitors in order to give them a chance to win. There are still schools we have to work hard to beat though – Truro School, Mounts Bay, Newquay and, of course, Redruth have a strong rugby sides and we do well to win those matches. Girls sport has blossomed this year too – hockey is getting better and better and the real growth has been in girls football. I very much hope we can win some more County Championships as we go through this school year.

This was also the year when the world’s media descended upon us as Nick Clegg, then Deputy Prime Minister, chose the school for a visit. I was told that someone would be coming but did not get any names – although the fact that four burly members of Special Branch arrived and started to quiz me on security arrangements should have given the game away. By lunchtime the car park had filled with TV trucks, journalists and film crews and they told me who was coming, although I had signed an agreement to tell no one at that stage! It was bizarre to be locked up in secrecy when the news was going out on BBC 24. It was disappointing that we could do so little to involve the rest of the school but Nick Clegg did spend half an hour talking to some students. It raised the profile of the election within the school and it was hopefully a glimpse into what the news and TV media circus looks like when it rolls into your town for the day.

So it has been an eventful year – but then all years are eventful. Our students remain a source of great pride to the school and this pride rubs off on them. As a result our students do come across as articulate and confident and this matters as much in later life as the GCSEs.

Destinations

We recently had a list from Truro College giving the destinations of our Year 11 from two years ago. We have been working for a while to raise aspirations about going to university and, if you do go, to go more widely across the UK. This year for the first time Plymouth, Exeter and Cardiff were not the top destinations. This year our ex-students have opened their wings and flown across the UK, to Edinburgh, Durham, Nottingham, Norwich, Sussex and Lancaster, as well as many ending up in Bath for the first time. The range of courses widens too from Aeronautical Engineering to Medicine to Journalism to Midwifery.

Our hope is always that the experiences we gave our students whilst they were here contribute to their success in later life. That is the reason we do this job.

Happy Christmas and a peaceful, perfect New Year,  Nadelik Lowen ha Blydhen Nowydh Da.

David Parker, Principal