Christmas Message from Mr Rees

Dear All

 The end of a term always offers an opportunity to reflect on what takes place in our school and this Autumn term has been yet another busy and exciting time at Simon de Senlis for the staff and children. 

2016 has been such an odd year on Planet Earth and we finish it with so much political uncertainty, conflict and anxiety in the world.  It is against this backdrop that I believe it is so important for us to ensure that our children grow up with more knowledge and understanding than ever about the world they live in, and with the skills and attitudes to work together to form a peaceful and prosperous society.

 A quick read through this edition of ‘Simon Says’ gives us a flavour of the variety of different experiences that children enjoy as part of their school life – something that the staff work hard to achieve.  This term alone we have seen experiences such as farm trips, visits to the gurdwara and our local churches, an overseas residential, the Christmas productions, many sporting competitions, ballroom dancing, the remembrance service and Forest School expeditions.  All these parts of the curriculum, alongside an ongoing focus on creating better mathematicians, readers and writers, are important parts of the rich tapestry which represents what being a student at Simon de Senlis is about.

Whilst I hope that the children enjoy a wonderful and relaxing time over the holidays, I also hope that they will find time to enjoy learning more about William Shakespeare and his plays ahead of our trust-wide project in the spring which will see our children be inspired by ‘The Tempest’.  The teaching staff have been engaged in training ahead of this with the Royal Shakespeare Company and will be on the school minibus later in the week to watch the play at Stratford; we look forward to the children being inspired by this curriculum project in the new year.

 Alongside their Shakespearian home learning, I heartily recommend that all children enjoy a daily festive dose of reading along with practising their spellings/sounds and number facts/times tables as many times as possible throughout the holiday.  A fortnight’s break is a long time away from school and the more that children can practise these important areas, the more helpful it will be for their learning when they return in the new year (I’m even happy for you to use the ‘Mr Rees says you should…‘ line if it helps!).

I hope that the Christmas period brings you all a well-earned rest and some important family time together.  On behalf of the staff and governors at Simon de Senlis, I’d like to thank you all for your support in 2016 and wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a peaceful and happy New Year.

 Happy Christmas!

 Tom Rees, Headteacher

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Show me the money: Why I’m hopeful about a National Funding Formula for Schools

This week, the Government is hopefully about to publish its fairer funding proposals for schools which are planned to be implemented in September 2018 having already been delayed  earlier this year.

As a Headteacher in a  Local Authority which has been chronically underfunded, I am cynically cautiously optimistic about this development.  Northamptonshire is one of the lowest funded 40 Local Authorities for education in the country in an unfair system which is explained in a nutshell on the F40 website as follows:

The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) has calculated that the 10 best–funded areas on average received grants of £6,297 per pupil, compared with an average of just £4,208 per pupil in the 10 most poorly funded areas. (F40 – Campaign for Fairer Funding in Education).

Let’s do the Math…

2014-15 budget information provided by the ASCL indicates that the average Local Authority ‘per-pupil’ funding national average is £4550.54.  In Northamptonshire average is £4118.60 which equates to a difference of £431.94 per pupil.

So crudely, in my school of 432 children, if we were to be funded at the national average per child, this would be an increase to the budget of £186,598.08; the equivalent of an additional 4 and a half experienced teachers, 13 Teaching Assistants or 1 stonking staff wellbeing program!

Across our Multi-Academy Trust with around 2700 children, that would equate to over a million pounds (£1,166,238) across seven schools.  Imagine the impact on learning and outcomes we could make with a teaching war-chest like that.

Now I know it doesn’t work just like that and there’s a far more complicated calculation which means that funding wouldn’t be distributed this way but it makes it really clear why there’s such a need to even out funding across the country, particularly as underfunded schools continue to be judged by the same standards as the rest of the country.

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SHOW ME THE MONEY!

Earlier this year, myself and the other 370 odd Headteachers in Northants were treated to this letter from Ofsted’s regional director, Chris Russell, expressing his concerns about the quality of education in our county.  You can read the long list of data outcomes which compare poorly to other regions and Local Authorities.

Whilst this ruffled various feathers across the county, sadly, this was business as usual for the majority of school leaders; Northamptonshire has historically seen lower educational outcomes in comparison to other counties.  For the last 9 years of my life as a Headteacher, I’ve been shuffled in to a room with other colleagues and been lectured as to how we need to up our game due to poor comparisons with our ‘statistical neighbours’.

Now, I could do the obvious thing which would be to plea poverty whilst also pointing out that, despite having one hand tied behind our backs, we’ve managed to raise standards to above the national average (and therefore significantly above the LA average) both at Simon de Senlis and in schools across the trust but that would be to put egos before a more systemic and more important issue so I’ll avoid that route.

Instead I’ll simply make the point that if we want to raise standards across the country and improve social mobility in some of the areas of the country where historically it’s been hard to do, a starting point would be to make sure that these areas are funded properly to do so.

In reality, the National Funding Formula in the context of a predicted   decrease in real-term funding is only likely to mean that there are losers and big losers rather than winners.  Whilst I’m hopeful that Northamptonshire schools will feel some actual increase in funding, I feel for those colleagues in authorities where there may be sizeable negative adjustments for them to make.

With cynical  cautious optimism…

TR

 

 

Remove the ‘OFSTED Outstanding’ label and put system-wide improvement ahead of islands of excellence…

Acouple of weeks or so ago I found myself engaged in a twitter conversation about how OFSTED could change.  An idle tweet sent whilst watching my daughter swim on a Saturday morning and before I knew it I was involved in a debate between OfSTED’s National Director, Sean Harford and various other keen Saturday morning twitterers.

Anyway, my view (developed further from the input of many on that Saturday morning tweet-fest) remains that the OFSTED ‘Outstanding’ tag remains more of a hindrance than a help in improving education for the the 8.56 million children of school age in England.
I should, at this point, make it really clear that there are many schools I know who are outstanding in every sense of the word (we have one in our trust).  They not only give a great deal to the children in their own building but play their part in supporting others in schools who need help.   There are others however, with the tag who just aren’t and I’m not sure what good it does anyone reading the celebratory OFSTED banners as I drive around the country.
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Others have already written posts which set out a case for change in OFSTED including Jarlath O’Brien in the TES who gives seven reasons why the outstanding grade should be scrapped and Stephen Tierney who this weekend wrote about the huge opportunity for change in the OFSTED system in the years ahead.  Here are some issues that I have with the ‘outstanding tag’:
  1. The schools with the outstanding tags are not always the best schools; they are sometimes those with a more privileged intake and therefore are easier to run.  Remarkably, OfSTED itself has now admitted this.
  2. The vast majority of schools aiming to be outstanding will fail by definition as only a small minority can ever be classed in this category.  Bearing in mind that 9/10 schools are already good or better, that’s a lot of 3 year roadmaps with a destination of ‘outstanding’ that will never come to fruition.
  3. The pursuit of ‘outstandingness’ can drive insular behaviour from schools with little incentive for school leaders to get out and play a part in improving the wider system as opposed to protecting the greens on the RaiseOnline.
  4. Competition for the top grade results in back-door selection taking place in schools such as compulsory admissions tests that take place at weekends which put more barriers in the way of those who are disadvantaged or discouraging those with SEND to apply to the school.
  5. The system is clearly broken if it’s possible to have an outstanding school at one end of the street and an inadequate one at the other.  Surely truly great schools would make it their business to play a wider part in the community?  Take, for example, the recent evaluation  where an infant school is 3 times more likely to be outstanding than the junior school and think of the impact over the years that this has on staff at those junior schools.
  6. Careers are defined by the term ‘outstanding’ and the word appears on bios and CVs of almost every Dame, Knight and  Government advisor as though this is a certificate of magical powers which will transform any unrelated educational setting.
With the outgoing Chief Inspector, Michael Wilshaw, leaving us with parting words that we should prioritise teacher and leadership recruitment and retention rather than tinker with school structures, the HMCI-elect, Amanda Spielman will be assessing how she can make a genuine impact in her tenure in charge of OFSTED in the middle of such radical reform.  Although there will be political challenge and calls that such a move would be dumbing down standards, I think a big step forward would be to remove the top grade and focus on making all our schools good enough.
So I’d ditch the outstanding grade and keep the following 3 categories:
Grade A: Good and Improving 
Good and Improving is what all schools should aspire to be and currently represent around 90% of the schools in the UK (Good & Outstanding).  Clearly, there is a huge range of both context, academic outcomes across these schools and there will be a wide range of different ethos and approaches. Ultimately, children will achieve good educational outcomes in relation to their starting points, behave well, be safe and leave these schools with a well-rounded bunch of experiences across the curriculum which help develop them as individuals.
 ‘Good and Improving’ schools offer their children a good deal and the taxpayer good value for money.  Leaders of ‘Good and Improving’ schools would base their priorities around maintaining and improving their own schools AND playing a proactive part in system-wide school improvement collaborating and supporting others within a trust, geographical cluster or local authority.
Grade B: Requires Improvement
The school is not yet good.  The teaching at the school is not consistently good and educational outcomes and behaviour is not as good as it should be.
Grade C: Inadequate
As above  AND the leadership of the school does not have the capacity to improve the situation quickly.
Or
Children are not safe.
The bottom line, surely, is that we all want as many of these 8,560,000 children in our country to be in a good, improving and inclusive school where they enjoy attending regularly, develop personally, achieve academically,  with the welcome side effect that parents and the local community feel that the school is great.
I think that not having the outstanding tag would help.
What do you think?
TR