The state of the nation’s schools is rarely far from the headlines, and the topic is there again this week thanks to Ofsted’s Annual Report. It is right that the business of educating children has such a high profile in national debate, and disappointing that the UK on average appears not to be making progress on the international league tables. Even assuming that those tables measure everything that matters, one may wonder whether the UK’s position is despite 3 decades of relentless change, or because of it, but certainly there is no shortage of views on what more changes are needed.
Sir Michael Wilshaw’s own report suggests that National Curriculum tests should be reintroduced at age 7 and 14, but also says that schools can be distracted by such tests and fail promote a love of reading and creativity. Meanwhile, since the clear impetus is for schools to become Academies, which do not have to follow the National Curriculum, it is not easy to see what the way forward is meant to be. Sir Michael speaks of a “two-nation education system” – one for the ‘lucky and one for the ‘unlucky’: if there are Headteachers out there who are not deeply committed to the success of their students I have yet to meet them, but it is hard to argue with the statistics.
If there is a divide between the lucky and the unlucky, JCoSS students must surely count among the lucky. They themselves, together with you their parents, make a community that is high in aspiration, rich in talent and generous in spirit. We are all hugely in the debt of the teachers and support staff at JCoSS who turn all of that potential into a reality week in week out. At the end of a term of high energy and achievement, a few highlights spring to mind. We have had another good Chanukah: the annual Concert was a wonderful array of individual and group talent. This year, in addition, we gathered the entire School community together at the end of each day for candle lighting and for a brief address from a member of staff or a visitor to the school. We “grew in holiness” during the 8 days, the practicalities and the ruach (spirit) of the occasion improving each day. For as long as space permits, I hope we will continue to use our “Heart Space” for this kind of gathering which embodies our ethos so powerfully.
This week I had the privilege (and agony) of selecting a JCoSS winner for the Jack Petchey “Speak Out” competition. Our Year 10 finalists faced the ultimate challenge of addressing their peers, plus the entire 6th form. The winner – Jamy Bristol James, who spoke in front of the great and the good at our formal Opening Ceremony in 2010, and has addressed massed crowds at Trafalgar Square last Chanukah – confessed that this week’s gig was far harder than either of those! All three finalists were hugely impressive, speaking from the heart and with great poise and conviction, giving an insight not only into their personal passions but into the concerns of their generation.
Meanwhile the learning of students remains at the centre of our concern. Three year groups now have public exams firmly in their sights, with all that that entails in terms of managing stress, workload and expectations, and remembering to keep a sense of proportion and wellbeing alive too. It is a very difficult balancing act for the students, as it is for parents and for the school, and we must all stay on the same side – the side of our students. Of course we want them to do well, but I for one am unconvinced that 3 decades of change have brought us wisdom on this issue in particular. We need to balance measurable attainment with a wide vision of what a full human being should be. Above all we will need to keep a sense of humour and perspective.
May I wish you all a restful break, time for re-creation, and a very happy 2014.