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Meetings…and Partings

The recent events for Years 11 and 13, where the boys returned their books to school and a sun-kissed barbeque on No11 lawn (on both occasions!) brought the end of yet another school year into sharper perspective.

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Opening Up is Delayed...

The inevitability of last week's announcement from Downing Street meant that the consequences in school were greeted almost with a metaphorical shrug of the shoulders by those affected. In truth most of what goes on at Bishop's is unaffected, as the delay to the full removal of Covid-related restrictions has no impact on our daily routine; it is 'as you were' for the reminder of the summer term. The special events at this time of year are affected quite seriously though, as information sessions for 11+ applicants and taster days for Year 12 must move online, tours can only be in small groups and the House Suppers for the incoming Year 7 boys and their parents have had to be delayed to the start of the September Term. The news that there are now cases of the 'delta variant' in two local private schools highlights the renewed need for caution and the avoidance of any complacency. Until the vaccination programme has taken a fuller course the danger of infection remains ever present.

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A time to plan...

Inevitably that's what happens at this time every academic year. A somewhat convoluted process starts just before Christmas with the updating of the school's longer term (3-year) Strategic Plan, which spells out at a high level the direction of travel for the whole school. This is contextualised by comments on the political, economic, social and educational climate at the time, and also contains a predictive element too. As is often the case with a long-range weather forecast the big events are easier to foretell than the short-term, and the level of accuracy and reliability wanes the further into the future you look. That's the reason for the annual readjustment, and also the reason why governors approve the plan each year in March.

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The interview game...

This segment of the academic year, between the end of the Easter Term and the 'summer' half term break tends to be interview central. There is the staffing mosaic to complete as the resignation date for teachers floats into view at the end of May, and there is also the small matter of appointing the next batch of senior prefects who will do so much to make the school experience brilliant for everyone over the next 12 months. As the interview season approaches I inevitably feel some trepidation; even given the facts that Bishop's has a draw for teachers due to reputation, amazing students and an enviable working environment recruitment of staff is never easy. The fact that almost all of the teachers here have to be able to deliver their subject across the full age range to A level and beyond can make appointment problematic, and some vacancies are tough to fill. This year there have been quite a few teachers to find, not because many people are leaving but because the school is expanding rapidly; it's a nice problem to have and I will never complain about popularity, but a problem it remains.

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It is always fatal to have music or poetry interrupted...

...or so Will Ladislaw claims in 'Middlemarch' George Eliot's late 19th century study of provincial life, and it's actually quite easy to see why he said it. Get into the flow, the stream of consciousness and an unanticipated pause breaks the train of thought with no guarantee of rejoining. As Coleridge found to his cost, the view of Xanadu is all too easily lost, never to be regained in quite the same way again.

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The next steps back along the road...

After a week of glorious sunshine the arrival of a mid-latitude depression over Britain returned us to a more winter-like weekend of leaden skies and blustery intermittent drizzle. No matter - I was feeling defiantly cheerful as I headed into school on Saturday morning, for two reasons. Firstly our weekend letting to Little Kickers has resumed in the Sports Hall; hoards of diminutive footballers, both boys and girls, have now resumed their frenetic activity at the weekend at BWS, scampering around bewildering patters of plastic cones and hoofing footballs whose diameters are knee-high for them. Proud parents lined up along the edges of the indoor pitch, socially distanced of course, but the important thing is that they are there! The school facilities are a significant community resource and should be in use when we are not in session, but I always feel that it is a bit sad when I visit the site in day time and it is silent. That was far from true on Saturday morning.

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A very social network...?

I write this at the end of a bank holiday weekend where sports organisations have led a news blackout of the various major social media platforms that have become so important to so many. There was some debate within school as to the wisdom and effectiveness of such a step - after all the IT leviathans which operate Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and the like will barely recognise that such a gesture has been made in one small country, given their global reach and audience of billions. Any action to make things better should be pervasive and enduring, so a protest that has the staying power of just three days is bound to have a limited impact. Life will return to normal on Tuesday and a tokenistic gesture will have merely made everyone who took part feel better rather than making real change more likely. On the other hand this weekend is traditionally one where social media enters the national consciousness like few others. The culmination of the Premiership Season, in particular, guarantees that an absence of engagement by the richest sports clubs in the UK will be noted by millions. Maximum impact and effectiveness with the generations for whom digital media has become the way of trawling through news. What draws the eye better than a gap in the wall paper after all?

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These are NOT exams by the back door…!

…at least that is the argument used by the DfE, OfQual, JCQ, all of the exam boards and everyone else who has an interest in assessment of secondary pupils in the UK. There are animated discussions going on in schools across the country about the best way in which to arrive at a grade for every member of Year 11 and Year 13 in every subject – how to give them the opportunity to show what they can really do without tripping up and falling over. It does feel a bit like we are being asked to do the exam boards job for them – set the tests, do the marking, accumulate and store the evidence, moderate the samples, standardize the results and decide the grade boundaries – and then have external quality assurance to mark some (but only some) of the evidence submitted to the boards. It’s all a massive bureaucratic exercise and all a bit of a leap into the dark in yet another unprecedented year.

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HM End of Term Blog

The end of the spring term for schools has arrived, but the excitement of the return and the prospect of a well-earned break has been tempered by the appalling testimonies posted on the ‘Everyone’s Invited’ website. The accounts make for very grim, depressing and in places horrifying reading. Though the vast majority of the stories focus at present on a narrow range of schools, what has been said should make every school look critically at what they can do to help establish a culture of respect between students and tackle problems where they are identified. Sexual harassment and sexual violence are abhorrent features that are found in society at large sadly, but schools must do their bit to make things better. The position is laid out well in the recent statement from ASCL’s general secretary, Geoff Barton:

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End of term matters...

The final days of the Spring Term 2021 have brought the arrival of a significant amount of guidance from all of the bodies which are involved in secondary assessment - the examining boards, OfQual and (especially) JCQ, the Joint Council for Qualifications. We now have a clearer picture of both the processes within school and the evidence needed to back up the allocation of grades for candidates at the end of their GCSE and A level courses. In actual fact the assessment and evidence gathering procedures which have been proposed by our Heads of Departments are sensible and fit for purpose - as well as humane. Given the circumstances of this year (and the last), it is in no-one's interests for our students to feel under the assessment kosh, but equally we do need to ensure that we are able to gather the evidence needed to show the standards at which they are working in a fair and equitable way. What still has to be made clear nationally is the QA processes that will be operated by the exam boards. This will appear next week

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