Category Archives: selecting a high school

Choices and decisions

Having welcomed new year 7 students into their schools, many high schools spend the next few weeks preparing themselves for next year’s [and for years to come] potential new students with Open Evenings, Open Days, organised advertising campaigns and visits to local primary schools. The word ‘competition’ has crept its unwelcome way into education and sadly seems here to stay despite many teachers and educationalists preferring to work with other schools for the mutual benefit of young people. The bottom-line is that if schools are not at the capacity of numbers set by Sefton; they lose money and this has a knock on effect on jobs, resources and of course the quality of teaching and student learning.

It must be a totally confusing situation for parents and primary school pupils wanting to make one of the most important choices of all-which high school to spend the next 5 years at. The amount of information, statistics and claims has become mind boggling. Some schools now have Open Evenings during the summer term, some advertise on buses, some on train stations, some in newspapers, some via the post, some in areas that other schools serve, some are academies, some are free schools, some are faith schools, some faith school invite pupils who aren’t of that faith, some are single sex, some are independent, some used to be independent and are now state, some are over-subscribed, some have lots of places available, some have different Ofsted inspection categories, some aren’t inspected by Ofsted, some tell their percentage of A*-Cs for all students [not necessarily including English and maths], some show 5A*-Cs that include English and maths, some show how much progress their students have made from KS2, some show percentages and progress made in English and maths-I could go on! If you delve behind the raw statistics, further confusion will undoubtedly follow-if you saw scores for one school of 70% A*-Cs [including English and maths] would you choose that school over one with 50%? Or would you be persuaded the other way if the school with 70% is actually targeted to achieve 80% and is thus under-performing, whilst the school with 50% is over achieving its target of 45%? Tricky one!

It’s a minefield of information and when we visit our primaries we never say that; “we are the best school-come to us”-we stress that there are lots of very different schools, all equally good to choose from and that it is important that they visit as many as they can to choose the one that ‘feels’ right for them. Open Evenings are not a reflection usually of what happens in everyday lessons [they may reflect the ethos of the school and how the school interacts with students and parents] and a quiet visit for one child and their parent [s] on a ‘real’ day tells you so much more. We are very proud of our Ofsted inspection-you might have noticed! BUT inspections become out of date quickly and Sir Michael Wilshaw, the Chief Inspector Of Schools said in his ‘High Expectations, no excuses’ speech that, “It is also important that outstanding schools should not luxuriate in their own outstandingness” We are working hard not to ‘luxuriate’ and what visitors see when they visit our classrooms is based on a whole staff collaborative effort. Judith Little wrote that you know you are in an outstanding school when you can see that;
Teachers talk about teaching
Teachers observe each other’s teaching
Teachers plan and organise and evaluate their work together
Teachers teach each other

I think that our blogs to parents, students and friends of the school have shown how we have been developing teacher collaboration but there is another key ingredient that is missing from the list-LEARNING! The most important people here are the LEARNERS! Including them in their own learning by equipping them with a language of learning, engaging them and challenging their learning, giving them responsibility for their own progress and supporting their social needs help to develop an outstanding learner.

We don’t, of course expect the students to roll up at Meols Cop with all the necessary skills to become a great learner! It takes time for us to teach and encourage the right mind set for personal progress and mind development and the process becomes much easier with support and encouragement from home. Our first meeting with year 7 parents has already happened-it is vital to meet early to firstly find out if there are any concerns and worries and secondly to explain some of the key learning characteristics that we want our learners to develop. The English, maths and science subject leaders explained their vision and aspirations for learners in their subject and I was able to share our Meols Cop philosophy and expectations of all of our learners. [Hope some mums, dads and carers are reading this after my advert for it!]
Everybody at last night’s meeting will expect that their children are taught by ‘great’ teachers and will have chosen our school because they hope that their children will be taught well, cared for and be happy at our school. The teachers had a lively debate on inset day about what ‘outstanding’ teachers should contribute to the whole school [see the last blog] and after the inset I found a quote in a book I was reading that I wish that I had written!

“The teacher who adds to their skill in the classroom by contributing fully to the routines, events and wider life of the school is the truly outstanding professional. Outstanding teachers seek to achieve the aims of the school, subscribe to them and live the purpose of their vocation-and they teach excellent lessons as well!” Mick Waters ‘Thinking Allowed’

Who wouldn’t want their sons and daughters to be taught by committed professionals as described by Waters? After 33 years as a teacher, I would love to be able to tell you that I was ‘a truly outstanding professional’ but I’m still learning and I learn something new every day from our students and my colleagues. I know that I can still be better in my role and I know that even after all of this time, reading so many books and blogs, visiting so many other schools and conferences, trying to be the best that I can-teachers are always ‘progress in action’ I also know that Meols Cop is a great supportive environment for students and staff to learn how to put their progress into action.