Principal’s Blog: Big Changes in Education

The news this week has been full of educational change announcements.

Firstly, that young people who do not reach the required standard in Key Stage 2 tests whilst at primary school will have to re-take them in Year and possibly again in Year 8 until they pass. We have been thinking about the implications of that for us and how well we prepare Year 7 and Year 8 in reading, writing and maths right now. In this last year we have increased the amount of maths teaching each child receives and the overall number of maths teachers, in order to create some smaller groups who need intensive catch up learning. We are also introducing a new reading course for all of our students called ‘Accelerated Reader’ which encourages our young people to read texts that are matched to their current reading age and which will stretch them to improve. It has been shown to improve reading ages very quickly in other schools. At the same time we are celebrating reading in every subject and using every subject to develop writing. This combined with regular testing in English and maths should mean our students quickly reach the level appropriate to their age. The GCSE examinations have a minimum reading age of 14 and some of the questions require a reading age far beyond that.

The second big change has been the expectation of the Secretary of State that every child in the school studies English, maths, two science subjects, either history or geography and a modern foreign language to the end of Year 11. At the moment at Penrice more than half of our children will already follow a modern foreign language to GCSE level and around three quarters will do history and/or geography. We think the change to everyone following those subjects is possible but not necessarily desirable. It reduces the number of additional subjects that can be studied and this will mean fewer children taking art, music, drama, technology subjects, dance, photography, PE, ICT or business studies. It will mean less choice in the options process. It will mean that some students will be dropping things they love to study the things they must. The Secretary of State has said that the ambition is for 90% of students to follow such a course and recognises that it may take some years to get there. At Penrice we have always emphasised the need for an academically strong education but believe that choice and freedom to choose matter as well. We will be taking a cautious approach to this proposal – making sure that the creative, arts and technological subjects are still well represented. Our students are brilliant at art and photography, many reaching into A level standard work by Year 11.

I have been telling staff all week that there are just 28 working days until the Christmas break and we have a lot to do in that time. That sounds like very few days but it is only six weeks to go and two days are lost to training days. I am not wishing our lives away – far from it. I want to emphasise the urgency and the importance of very day, every lesson, every minute of time because we still have a great deal of teaching to be done. Every day counts – that’s why we need 100% attendance and that why we have two bikes in the foyer as attendance prizes this term.