The ability to listen and learn from one another has always been vital in parliament, in business and in most aspects of daily life. But at this particular moment in time, as national and global events continue to reiterate, it is uncommonly crucial that we forge new channels of communication and reinforce existing ones. The following article from St Laurence School is an attempt to do just that. We would welcome your thoughts on this or any other Parliamentary Review article.
St Laurence School
Rt Hon The Lord David Blunkett, MP
Rt Hon The Lord Eric Pickles, MP
1ST LAURENCE SCHOOL |
BEST PRACTICE REPRESENTATIVE
“Life in all its fullness”:
developing the whole person
St Laurence School, a comprehensive in Bradford-on-Avon,
has been described by one of Her Majesty’s Inspectors
from Ofsted as a school guided by “both head and heart”.
It has an intake from over 30 primary schools and pupils of
above-average attainment. St Laurence has been oversubscribed
for the last five years, and in the following article, headteacher
Fergus Stewart explains how a school can thrive even in a
competitive environment of other, highly successful schools,
both public and private.
Our Church of England school values are summarised in our strapline: “care,
inspire, succeed”. Doing what is right for our young people, irrespective of external
pressures, is what drives us. We have high expectations of all our students, as
they do of all our staff, but human flourishing is at the core of our mission and is
reflected in the cohesive and settled community we’ve created – something that
visitors often comment on. What does that mean in practice? Three things have
been vital ingredients in our success so far.
Keeping the main thing the main thing
Obvious as it sounds, we strive to keep teaching and learning at the heart of all we
do. That means valuing our staff and treating them with compassion. Teachers have
high expectations of themselves and the pressures have increased greatly over the
last decade, so we do all we can to be supportive. For example, we never question
attendance at funerals or family medical appointments. We also trust our teachers,
rather than expecting them to stay at school until a set time each evening.
ST LAURENCE SCHOOL
»Headteacher: Fergus Stewart
»Founded in 1980
»Type of school:
»No. of pupils: 1400
»Commitment to developing
the whole person
»Strong links with Wiltshire
»Hugely successful in athletics
»Progress 8 +0.47
St Laurence School
THE PARLIAMENTARY REVIEW
Highlighting best practice
2| ST LAURENCE SCHOOL
We are clear about what we don’t
expect, as well as what we do – strong
guidelines both ways have been
appreciated by staff. We are explicit
about the marking approaches specific
to each subject, so teachers know
exactly where they stand. I value my
regular meetings with union reps and
encourage staff to contribute to those
discussions. We invite staff feedback
each term on our development plan
priorities. Tailored, in-house professional
development for teachers is explicitly
linked to appraisal. This encompasses
regular, fortnightly “Tuesday training”
slots, often delivered by classroom
teachers; action research projects
being undertaken across the year by all
teachers; middle leader training; and
“Teach the class in front of you” is
our constant mantra. With our pupil
premium and SEN (special educational
needs) populations both relatively
low, nothing but a highly personalised
approach will do in securing good
progress for all. Teachers take pride
in tailoring their planning to the
developing needs of each class.
Analysis of regular assessment data
is used to challenge subject leaders
about individuals and student groups,
while our “Progress Mentor” team
works with individuals who are falling
behind to ensure that interventions are
successful and lasting.
At Key Stage 4, we have chosen to
maintain a vocational pathway for a
small group of students for whom
the full diet of GCSEs would not be
appropriate. For example, we have
developed a land-based programme
in partnership with Lackham College.
Students’ response to this has been
enthusiastic, and, crucially, this has
helped to maintain their attendance
and engagement with the rest of their
school programme. Although we are
still looking to improve Progress 8, this
measure has given them confidence,
enjoyment and progression, which
matters far more.
In addition to all this, we have maintained
a full, three-year Key Stage 3 programme
for all students. We do so because a
clear link between achievement at the
end of year 9 and exam success at GCSE
two years later has been demonstrated.
It allows us to provide the rich curriculum
that is essential for developing the whole
child – something that for us includes
our “Challenge” programme, which
builds from a short outdoor programme
in year 7 to extended residentials in years
8 and 9 for all students, throughout
which teamwork, self-management
and overcoming personal challenges
feature heavily. No short-term “sticking
plaster” intervention programmes in
later years can compensate for corners
cut in Key Stage 3.
St Laurence - a school
with “both head and
Students create rockets
during a visit from the
UK Space Agency
We are explicit
specific to each
3ST LAURENCE SCHOOL |
BEST PRACTICE REPRESENTATIVE
We try always to remember that each
child only gets one chance at education,
so we avoid complacency and can’t let
the grass grow under our feet. When
things go wrong, as they have done for
us at GCSE and A level at various points
in our journey, we have developed a
clear approach. This starts with honest
analysis and discussion, which cannot be
allowed to take more than a few weeks.
Next comes a clear action plan, often
informed by scrutiny and advice that
we commission from senior leaders or
subject experts in other schools – and, in
such meetings, we do not varnish reality.
Each year we have “Raising Achievement
Plans” (RAPs) for any and all subjects or
areas of the school that require them,
and these plans are recognised as being
genuinely helpful. Senior leaders do not
shy away from getting fully involved in
these plans – it’s a team effort, after
all, not a blame culture.
Let students be leaders
Schools are about young people, so
we have developed an ethos where
their voice and leadership are valued.
Our vertical tutor group system has
sixth-formers fully integrated with
younger years, so leadership grows
naturally through informal coaching
as well as flourishing programmes like
“Literacy Leaders”. We empower and
prioritise our student councils, at both
house and school levels, as genuinely
consultative bodies; and it is through
them that we are developing our
approaches to, for example, mobile
devices, e-safety and anti-bullying.
End-of-term assemblies are completely
devised and led by our head girl and
head boy, and our student “Ethos
Group” plans the weekly themes for
collective worship. Moreover, our
many charitable events are all planned
and coordinated by student charity
leaders. This year, the new and widely
acclaimed online school magazine
has been launched by A level graphic
design students. It has been a joy
to watch young people rise, with
appropriate, light-touch guidance,
to these challenges and demonstrate
amazing leadership skills.
This rich curriculum, ever evolving and
enabling youngsters of all abilities
and backgrounds to thrive, is what
we so much want to maintain and
take further. We are so fortunate
in our staff and our students. The
ever-growing, threatening cloud of
school budgets is a major anxiety. We
benchmark regularly and watch every
penny. My plea to politicians? Please
invest in our amazing young people –
they deserve every opportunity we can
people, so we
an ethos where
their voice and
courage, confidence and
Our Houses in fierce
The Rt Hon Professor The Lord Blunkett's Foreword For The Parliamentary Review
A new Prime Minister, a new Education Secretary and, as we're all painfully aware, a deeply uncertain future. It is in this context that the education service continues to deliver for individuals, communities and of course for our nation.
There is no doubt whatsoever that the education service as a whole, schools, post 16/Further Education, and yes, lifelong learning, needs the most enormous injection of cash. Independent analysis shows that there has been at least an 8% average reduction in the amount of spend per pupil in our schools. Those damaged most by this have been pupils with special educational needs, whose voices are sadly rarely heard. The necessity of urgent action was underlined in July by the report of the all-party House of Commons Select Committee on Education. They could not have been clearer about the need for substantial funding and a long-term 10-year commitment.
At the same time, there are a number of reviews taking place. One of them, in relation to post-16 qualifications, is in danger of a classic mistake by politicians and officials who have little or no understanding of the complex territory they're dealing with. Namely, the ridiculous proposition that BTEC National Diplomas might be set aside because 'T Levels are the gold standard'!
I'm in favour of T Levels, but in the right context and for the right outcome. They are intended to be extremely focused specialist qualifications in defined areas of employment. When and if they eventually take off – there is predicted to be just a thousand students in 2021-22 taking up the qualification – they will not replace the BTEC, which has been the workhorse providing a general and high-quality education for decades. The BTEC has equipped young people for a variety of opportunities in a very changing employment market where the development of artificial intelligence, robotics, and changed working practices makes confining the choice of vocational pathways to one narrow focus, frankly ridiculous.
Meanwhile, her Majesty's Opposition continue to throw out titbits which do not give, as yet, a very clear idea of what, if elected, Labour would do in office. What is needed is positive proposals. Abolishing this, that or the other – assessments/tests for those leaving primary school, for instance – is not the same thing as a very forward-looking agenda for radical improvement in standards and equity between those who can and cannot afford additional help for their children.
There are a handful of Labour Party members, supported by some people who ought to know better, who have decided that a full-frontal assault on private education would be a good idea. For those worried about this, stop worrying. A party that put this in its manifesto wouldn't get elected, and if by some fluke it did, it would be challenged in the courts to the point where all the contradictions would be exposed for everyone to see.
Just contemplate one simple fact. 20% of secondary schoolchildren in the borough of Hackney attend private schools! Yes, Hackney. This is because a large number of parents, some of whom scrape the money together, are sending their children to private education in London which happens to be the area of England with the best academic outcomes from state education. What's more, very large numbers (again, particularly in London) pay for private tutors. At the last estimate 40% of parents in London had at some point over the last year paid for a tutor for their child!
Perhaps therefore an opposition party, hoping to provide unity rather than division, opportunity for all rather than a futile class battle against educational privilege, would seek ways of ensuring that those who can't afford tutors have the kind of support outside school that would put them on equal terms.
One thing is very certain, no government would be able to stop parents buying additional tutoring for their children.
So, a practical agenda for equalising opportunity, for investing where it's needed most, for transforming the pipeline from school through college, apprenticeships, or university, is a goal worth fighting for. A positive way of linking business and education through political decision-making, with the delivery by excellent professionals in the education service, to the children of today and the economy of tomorrow. Surely that is a much more progressive and less negative way forward for both government and opposition.