Back to School – advice for new students

This is my column for the Courier this week.

1. Be nice. You will be with people you know from Primary and with lots of people you don’t. If you stick to the ‘be nice’ part you’ll find that you’ll avoid the pitfalls of starting at a new school and make new friends. Pupil who think they are ‘cool’, tend to stick to other pupils they think are ‘cool’ in the same way as them. Thus they limit their friendship groups and count on their meanness to hold their group together. Their start in school will be made up of failing out, hurtful comments, sadness and loneliness. So be nice to people and you’ll get niceness back from them.

2. Work hard. You have this time to make a fantastic impression on your new teachers and there will be lots of new teachers! From one primary teacher, to probably over 12. Each of those will have slightly different rules, routines, seating plans, but will all have high expectations. Make sure you put your best efforts in to every piece of work. That mind-set you will make brilliant progress during your time at secondary school.
3. Be prepared to fail. Every day and in every lesson you will not know everything and you will get things wrong. There would be no point to a lesson if you already knew the answers, so don’t think raising your hand first makes you the cleverest person in the class. You just knew the answer before the question was asked. Getting things wrong and failing is the quickest way to learn. Learning how to deal with failure is one of the best life skills you can gain at school. Never say “I don’t know”, without ending the sentence with “yet”. Read and listen to the feedback from the teacher on how to improve your work. Make the changes to that piece of work based on that advice. Keep repeating, “if it is not excellent, it is not finished”.
4.  Be prepared to be silent in lessons.  You need to listen to the expert that you will have in every class, your teacher.  They will explain things that you need to listen to.  Also, you will need to listen to you classmates.  Everyone of you deserve the respect to have your opinion or answer or questions heard.  There will also need to be the time to work in silence, this gives everyone the chance to do their best.

4. Throw yourself in to school life. Join clubs; play sport and try out for the school’s teams; try acting; sing in the choir; join a band or the orchestra; play chess; go to science and maths clubs. Don’t listen to the ‘cool’ group about what you should and shouldn’t do. Those that throw themselves into school life will have the widest friendship groups, including those in different year groups.
5. See it as a fresh start. No matter what happened at primary, you have the opportunity to reinvent yourself. You may have felt you were “no good at maths”, well now you can change your mindset to a person who is going to give it your best effort to improve. You may have chatted too much in class and got on the wrong side of your teacher. You might have been mean to your classmates. Take this opportunity to change, we don’t know what you were like only what you are like.
6. Enjoy school. It does seem, from your current perspective, that you are in school for a really long time. But if you live a long life, it makes up approximately 16% of your whole life. 84% will not be in a school.  Looking back you will never have so many friends. So many people looking out for you. People who are desperate for you to achieve your full potential. So enjoy it!
Actually reading this back, I think this is good advice for all students returning to school. 

I hope that you have a successful year.


The P45 Fortnight – a reprise

I wrote most of this for a local newspaper column a year ago.  This is an update…


image from

Many of you will be aware that A level results were released last Thursday and that GCSE results will be announced this Thursday. Of course this is an a hugely stressful time for students and their parents. So much rides on these results. A place at a top university, being able to study the A’levels you wanted or a place on an apprenticeship. Each set of results will have its own story from unbridled success to the feeling of abject failure. For each student the results will be the result of a successful or unsuccessful partnership between the student, their parents and their teachers. It is effected by not only those relationships, but everything that is happening in that student’s life.

Many of you won’t be aware that in the age of high accountability that many Headteachers and teachers this is a very stressful time. This is where a aggregation of the student’s results can result in professionals losing their jobs.

Last week we had looked closely at the Average Point Score (APS) for level 3 qualifications (A’ levels and their equivalents). This is the total score achieved by each student averaged across the institution. Have a high attaining cohort that will tend to take 4 or 5 A levels your score should be well above 800. Have a comprehensive intake, that in the main take 3, you are looking for scores above 700. So the league table is skewed by schools that have high ability intakes and who’s students take more than the required 3 A’ levels. That isn’t to say that a Grammar school Headteacher has any less pressure. They have to ensure that their results are at the top of the league table to ensure healthy numbers the year after from academic children.  This is also one of the key league table battle grounds as selected state maintained grammars do battle with selective private schools.  You can obviously make clunky references to the the Olympics where elites do battle with elites.  But, for these schools the pressure is high to ensure that the decision made by parents when their children were 11 or 13 were correct (see the man suing his son’s private school because he gained 1 GCSE).  This is different for the non selective, we see huge triumphs from students that were able to enter vocational courses and go onto university, most of whom tend to be the first going to a university from their family.  However, at comprehensives we also have the higher attaining who gain straight A*s and are off to Oxford.  I feel it is great to see the full range!

But the league table, as I have explained before, is not a comparison of like for like.  An APS of 600 in a non-selective in a tough area can be more significant that all the schools that post 800+.

Tomorrow is the GCSE results.  These are now will be reported in a very different way, Progress8 or P8, when the league tables are produced sometime in the Autumn.  Now your floor target is your cohort and how they did under you care.   The heartache for staff will still be the student that gets one grade below what is expected.  The problem is that what is expected will only be known once all the results come out.  I’ll pause for a moment to let that sink in.  Yes you heard it correctly.  The target that you have been aiming at will only be fully known once the exams have been marked and reported.

What does this mean?  Well for me it is seriously not really knowing what the outcomes for our students will be for the first time in 10 years (albeit 2012 was tough with the change in grade boundaries).  This is the first year that I am actually unsure.  We had an incredibly hardworking Year 11, but our success or failure will be their performance measured against all the other schools nationally.  If they have done well it will be a positive score, perhaps an exciting 0.75.  Done ok and it will be around 0.  Done badly enough to give you sleepiness nights it will be below -0.5.

So, both results days, require all students to perform consistently across that exam season, for GCSE that involves over 20 exams. When you look at the headline figures you don’t know about the child who has spent the last 6 months in hospital. Or the student that has collapsed under the pressure. Or the one who’s parent has died recently. Each of those children who make up the overall headline figure for the league table are individuals with different backgrounds, ability, home lives, relative poverty or wealth, interested or not interested parents. Yet schools are held responsible for the performance of the students no matter what is going on in the other 18 hours of their day.

So if you know a student, a parent, a teacher or a headteacher, have a thought for them over the next fortnight. Lives are changed irreversibly at this time.