When I was interviewed for the headship at Devonshire Primary School back in February 2007, I gave considerable thought to my “vision” for primary education. In addition to the need for high expectations, good communication and empowerment, I recognised that the aspiration for lifelong learning was a passion of mine. I was keen for the whole school community to realise that the school years are just an episode in each individual’s learning journey and that we need to be prepared to learn something new about our world and ourselves every day that we draw breath.
Fine words indeed but to test whether these were just words or whether they were truly embodied in the way I lived my life, I decided to do a brave thing. I asked myself the question, "What have you learnt over the summer holiday?”
Firstly, I learnt that life is full of surprises. How else could you possibly explain the performance of the England cricket team, regaining the Ashes in a dramatic test series?
I learnt that if you really want to get a grandstand view of the annual Perseid meteor shower, it is not enough just to lie on a sun-lounger in your back-garden at midnight. You need to be watching from a location which does not feature thick, foreboding clouds obscuring every speck of light from the night sky. Lying on a sun-lounger at midnight also tends to unnerve the neighbours a little bit.
On the subject of sun-loungers, I learnt that purchasing new garden furniture tempts providence and heralds a summer of Stygian gloom and rain that would make Noah’s family reach for the Black and Decker workmate.
I learnt that if you keep 6 chickens in your garden, you need a network of friends and neighbours to relieve you of half a dozen eggs each and every day of the year. Developing the same learning opportunity, the novelty of a diet comprising omelettes, hard boiled eggs and eggy bread wears very thin very quickly not to mention the havoc it could wreak upon your digestive system.
Pianos are a) heavy and b) extremely difficult to move from one house to another. We promised my middle daughter that when she returned home after her year abroad we would find a second-hand piano for her. Scrutiny of the internet helped us to locate such an item over in Ewell. We arranged transport and muscle to facilitate the task. On arrival it soon became clear that the house must have been built around the piano. Could it be rolled from the living room, through the kitchen, across the (very rainy) driveway and hoisted on to the van? We couldn’t shift it out of the living room. I learnt that the internet has an answer to every problem. They’re not always the right answers but occasionally you can strike gold. Typing “how do you move a piano?” into Google (although other Search Engines are available), I learnt that you need to turn the piano on its side on to a rug which you then pull, enabling you to navigate doorways. On the very same day I learnt that if you push an old piano too quickly over your lounge carpet, the casters fall off.
I learnt that sometimes it is not desirable to be the chosen one. Let me explain. My sister got married in August. The Best Man got caught up in a spectacular traffic jam on the M3. My younger brother was sitting close to the front of the church whilst the drama unfolded and was the (un)fortunate recipient of an imploring tap on his shoulder which heralded a request for him to fill in as substitute Best Man. Being a good team player, he was happy to accept the invitation yet he spent the rest of the service toying with the nightmare prospect of having to adlib a Best Man speech at the reception. When the Best Man arrived a few minutes before the end of the service my brother greeted him with more enthusiasm than my sister, the Bride, received.
Finally, I learnt that one of the most stressful scenarios known to man (or potential grandpas) is helping your 7-month pregnant (with twins) daughter move house.
So, in conclusion, you cannot accuse me of hypocrisy when you hear me mention lifelong learning. This summer, I have learnt so many new things. Granted, you might not consider each and every one of the things I have learnt to be suitable for filing under “earth-shattering” but they formed an important part of my learning journey.
We are so proud of our Year 6 children who recorded the best ever Devonshire KS2 SATs results this summer. The results are an appropriate reward for the phenomenal amount of work carried out by the children themselves and by staff across the school, backed up by supportive parents.
Level 4 is the Government's expected level for Year 6 attainment in Reading, Writing, Maths, and Grammar, Spelling and Punctuation.
We are also very proud of our Year 2 children.
Level 2 is the Government's expected level for Year 2 attainment in Reading, Writing and Maths.
With my three daughters growing fast and navigating their own course through life, there are fewer occasions when we go out together as a family of five. Before the days of satellite navigation, each car journey would be accompanied by a familiar soundtrack from the back seats. When the attraction of “I Spy” had waned and the restlessness had manifested itself in fidgeting and requests for toilet stops, there came the sound of the dreaded five words that send shivers down the spine of any parent… “Are we nearly there yet?”
Post - Ofsted, I have been thinking about those words. Are WE nearly there yet? As a school, have we reached the place we want to be? The answer to that question is an emphatic, “No!” Running the risk of sounding like a judge on X-Factor, we are on a journey. We know where we want to get to but we certainly haven’t arrived yet. Devonshire Primary has the capacity to be judged “Outstanding” and we are nearer to that validation than we have ever been. The reality, however, is that we need the support of all of our families if we are going to reach our desired destination. But how?
The subject of my last blog was all about listening to your child read several times a week to support their learning. This is a self-evident truth so I make no apologies for repeating that pearl of wisdom here and now (and probably many times more in the future). Another strategy is to ask your child after school, “What have you learned today?” It is a simple question that prompts children to reflect on their experiences and helps to consolidate their learning. Avoid doing this at the school gate, by the way. You are more likely to have a productive conversation about learning once your child has unwound. So, apart from these two suggestions, how else can parents support our mission to reach “Outstanding” status?
I hope you have taken time to read through the recently-published report. One of the three areas highlighted for improvement was attendance. This was bitterly disappointing in the light of the range of rewards and sanctions we have rigorously applied to elevate attendance beyond 95%. Clearly, we are going to have to raise next year’s attendance target higher still – beyond 96%. We cannot achieve this without your support. The whole argument of taking holidays in term-time is a minefield. I can understand the economic attraction of securing more favourable rates outside of the school holiday periods but the bottom line is that I cannot authorise such absences other than in truly exceptional circumstances. However, holidays in term time is only part of the story. It can be equally disruptive for a child to have regular short periods of absence that arrest their learning. Naturally, if a child is truly unwell they should not be in school but far too many children have attendance records below 90%. 90% sounds quite impressive but this is the equivalent of one day off every fortnight! Future employers would frown upon such a poor attendance record and one of the primary purposes of primary education is to enable our children to make a continued, positive contribution to society - both socially and economically. Good attendance patterns need to be established at school in preparation for life beyond school. As teachers, we are rightly held to account for the progress each one of our children makes over time. We are accountable regardless of a child’s attendance record so to maximise your child’s chances of reaching high school with good progress and attainment data we need them to have an outstanding attendance record.
At Devonshire, we recognize that the vast majority of our parents share our hunger for their children to be the best they can be. I am delighted that Mrs Scrivens, who is our English subject leader, recently arranged and delivered meetings for parents to share ideas about the teaching of English. Our new Maths subject leader, Mrs Love, has started her Devonshire career at the beginning of this term so keep your eyes open for forthcoming sessions about supporting your children’s Maths at home.