School Improvement through peer review and collaboration

“Following a period of turbulence when the school was in special measures and staff felt very pressurised, the new Headteacher has worked tirelessly to develop a culture of openness, transparency and trust. In particular, leaders have been empowered and are enjoying the freedom to innovate. As a result, the school now has a clear vision and is a harmonious place where everyone feels valued. This is helping to drive school improvement because all stakeholders are pulling in the same direction.”

Challenge Partners Review Report: Wyedean School, Nov 2016

“Really enjoyed my conversation with sixth form @WyedeanSchool on Friday. Confident, articulate youngsters, we didn’t always agree – healthy.”Baroness Royall after her visit to Wyedean 25th Nov 2016

The progress markers of the school year are flying by right now as this long term suddenly starts to show an end in sight with the glitter of Christmas holidays starting to infect a lot of conversations in hallways and classrooms. We have our Sixth Form Open Evening here on Thursday 1st December. As much as this is the evening to show our community just how good Post 16 Education is at Wyedean I also have a sneaking thought that it is also a good excuse to get Christmas trees, real NOT fake, from the Forest of Dean up and decorated around the school to remind us the holidays are not far away. For the Year 11s this probably cannot come too soon and they finish their two week formal mocks at the end of the fortnight. I would say most of Year 11 are already in the mind-set of looking at life beyond GCSEs and have spent most of the autumn term looking at schools and colleges for their potential post 16 futures. We were very fortunate to host Baroness Royall on Friday as she spoke to Sixth Form and upper school students. Lady Royall was Labour Leader of the House of Lords under Gordon Brown. In a “post-truth” World it is refreshing to know young people are debating issues with politicians like Jan Royall, disagreeing, having debate but all engaged in respectful dialogue.

The question I gave to my Year 10 critical thinking group this week was “does the means justify the ends?” I thought about this as like all schools we received our data analysis (RaiseOnline) for the Key Stage 4 2016 results. This is the first year of the changes on accountability measures with all English schools being measured by “Progress 8” as schools no longer report on how many students received five GCSEs above C including English and Maths. The current Year 11 will also be the first cohort in England to undertake English and Maths qualifications using the new numerical grading with other GCSE subjects to follow. It’s been a difficult one for all schools to plan, implement and undertake some of these fundamental changes especially if you include KS3 “assessment without Levels” changes. Don’t get me started on education funding. The Chancellor, Philip Hammond, said nothing about increasing education funding in the Autumn Statement which the Institute of Fiscal Studies has reported earlier this year that education has suffered a real terms cut of 8%. When I meet other school leaders as I did the other Friday at a meeting at Royal Wootton Bassett Academy the only conversation around the room is about where are you saving money and which further cuts will you have to make? In all of this the demands on more from the education system grows. It will be interesting to see the PISA findings next month as England is compared to other leading education systems. For Wales, it is predicted PISA will only show even further decline in key standards of English, Maths and Science.

For Wyedean School the report from Challenge Partners on our school has been a fantastic validation of the work we have done to make sure not only is the school fulfilling its core function, meeting DfE requirements, balancing the budget but we are also being innovative and creative in the educational outcomes and opportunities for our young people in Monmouthshire and the Forest of Dean. I will be sharing the report with all parents and will put this on the school website. This review/inspection by Challenge Partners is a way of making sure that even though the school can expect OfSTED in 2017 the school still knows where it is and what it has to do to be even better. I found it very odd when I worked in Powys that an inspection could be over 6-7 years between inspections, to the day, and no such group of school improvement network like Challenge Partners exists west of Offa’s Dyke no matter what Cardiff has tried to emulate. It is not the original Challenge Partners that grew out of the highly regarded “London Challenge” group.

A group of senior leaders here met with a senior representative from the International Baccalaureate Organisation (IB) to talk about how Wyedean potentially becomes an “IB World School” offering programmes such as the IB Diploma and MYC. One of the reasons why being an academy is a good thing is precisely because it is the school that gets to lead on areas such as what type of curriculum and education philosophy it should be offering rather than following the diktats of the local authority or a narrow national educational agenda. The principal is a leader rather than a manager of somebody’s agenda remote from the school. Wyedean sits on the confluence of the Wye and Severn and looks out to the wider World. This is increasingly reflected in the World Class education we have in this corner of the borders. And best of all it is what our parents and students know is the right education for the 21st Century. If statisticians want to measure education by calling it “Progress 8” then that is fine but when visitors judge students as “confident and articulate” and staff as “committed and innovative” then we know Wyedean School is doing the right thing for the communities it serves.

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