Principal’s Round-up – 31st January 2020

After my mother died (some 14 years ago) I found a poem in her personal possessions that she had cut from a newspaper. It was about the joy of having a daughter and the difference it makes to a mother’s life. It was very moving and rather poignant. There were so many unsaid words. She had never read that to me or even shared it. We weren’t, after all, a demonstrative family. We had to imagine affection, never discussed our feelings, and certainly under achievement wasn’t an option. But we knew we were loved. Actions speak louder than words and we focused a lot on our common interests and attributes, much less on our differences and needs. These were considered selfish, and serving society was preferable to seeking self-centred goals. Both of my parents were excellent role models and afforded me a very positive and resilient outlook on life. But then my parents and grandparents lived through the second world war. They saw the destruction of Plymouth and both my parents, who were children at the time, spent years away from their families whilst evacuated to Cornwall. They believed all the propaganda that was easy to espouse given the circumstances, and never questioned the wisdom of the politicians that told them the stories of the time. I really hope we have moved forward from this kind of unquestioning conditioning. Feeling things but not speaking is not always the best way.
It is now 75 years since the liberations of remaining death and extermination camps that were set up in Nazi occupied regions of Europe, and we are all reminded again of the dangers of persuasive propaganda. I watched a harrowing programme about the survivors from BergenBelsen describing the unimaginable traumas they suffered and subhuman conditions they were forced to live in. How could these death camps have ever been supported or controlled? German people in the early 20th Century were not bad people. Why did the Nazi party rise to power and win landslide victories in political elections? We know that in fact many Germans joined the Nazi party not because they hated Jews, but out of a hope for restored patriotism, a sense of economic anxiety from forced austerity, and a wish to preserve their religious values. Some joined for raw political opportunism or even ignorance. As we move through difficult political and economic times in this country and imagine what our new ‘freedoms’ will be from today, we must learn the lessons from history. We must never stop teaching the events of the holocaust to our children, despite objections from some people. I am still haunted by the famous statement explaining that the holocaust did not start with the gas chambers. Rather, it started with politicians dividing people into ‘us and them’. It started with intolerance and hate speech and the cessation of the ability to care.
With the presidential-styled system of leadership we seem to be attracted to, comes the acceptance of ‘fake news’ and the encouragement of prejudice and bigotry. There is a risk of the worst kind of disrespect and enforced discrimination rising in the minds of young people. Hatred (and therefore fear) is still alive in some communities and it is up to us, along with the next generation to stamp it out. We cannot allow the views and behaviour of a few individuals in our town and school to determine the conditions for others. There is hope that this will not happen while we continue to pay attention to developing tolerance in our curriculum and while we have young people like our youth parliament candidates and others who know it’s not all about them but the change they make in the world.
It was the highlight of the school year last week with the much anticipated Sports Personality of the Year awards evening. Shaun has written a full report of the event, but I was delighted to see so many young people rewarded for the tireless effort they make to improve their sporting performance. It was not just about the winners, but a chance to hear stories of success and I was amazed by the breadth of participation in so many different sporting areas. The overall winner, Jenny Green, gave a fabulous speech and won this, not because she herself is a high achieving sportsperson, but because of the impact she has made on others including the work she has undertaken with Y11 to re-engage them and help them succeed. Well done to everyone who made the event so special, and of course to everyone who turned up to celebrate with us.
It is the time of year when the PPEs are upon us again. Y11 and Y13 are turning their attention now to their exams and the revision sessions all HoFs are leading.
We must all continue to work hard to meet the objectives in the Academy Improvement Plan. We certainly will not achieve them by simply wishing for it. To support this onward development, I will be undertaking the second teaching and learning review starting in the week beginning 10th February. As ever, the focus is on learning over time rather than individual lesson observations. We leave these to the appraisal process as this is where individual improvements are made. The teaching and learning review process is not designed to ‘see learning happening’ as we all know that this is impossible. Learning is invisible and individual. However, I will be looking at adjustments made for students in class plans and how they are realised, and I will be examining the intent in curriculum planning being implemented through the agreed strategies. Having a tick-list of expectations will never be good enough here. It is about the impact of intentions and the quality of the teaching, not a reductionist list of tasks. The framework is in place, but it is up to you to bring it alive. Success, ultimately, is about meeting the needs of your students and removing barriers that restrict their progress. It requires joint enterprise; holding each other to account for quality not colluding with under-performance in someone who has lower standards. Simply, if you do not care about the progress in someone else’s class as well as your own, we have no hope of improving together. Genuine improvement requires hard work and determination with a ‘can do’ attitude every day. I am looking forward to seeing the improvements made by HoFs since the last review in late October.
Have a lovely weekend
Sarah