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Hessle High School

Headteacher Blog

Welcome

On this page you will find a weekly informative blog from Mr Groak, Headteacher.

Page 1

  • WEEK 35 - Friday 24 June 2022

    Published 24/06/22

    Many of you will know that I am a season ticket holder at Hull FC and, when they win a game, it is rarely because of any individual achievement and is more likely to be achieved by team discipline and the fact that they ‘played for eighty minutes’. This saying is a bit of cliche but it speaks to a real truth in that success in sport usually comes down to executing the plans you devised in training and staying disciplined right until the final whistle blows. The same can be said for students and staff in school. Our curriculum is not planned to be delivered in 30 weeks or even 35. It will take us the full 38 weeks of the school year in order to deliver our planned curriculum. Gone are the days when the final weeks of term would involve bringing games into school or watching videos. There are plenty of other fun and enriching activities for students to enjoy at this time of year, such as our trips to the coast and Sports Day, and it won’t be long before they have six weeks off school. For those reasons, they, and you, will rightly expect us to teach them until the end of term. And the same expectations apply to our students. In recent weeks, we have spoken collectively to students about ‘playing for eighty minutes’ and staying disciplined all year around. It is important, not just for their education but also for the development of professional habits, that they maintain high levels of attendance and continue to wear their uniform correctly all year. We will urge them to do this and are delighted that they respond positively to this.

    I thank you for your support with this. Each year, I speak to a small number of parents who are not happy that their child has faced a sanction for coming into school with the wrong uniform on or with inappropriate jewellery/nails etc, and invariably it is at this time of year when the temptation is there to lower standards. Our standards are high and I make no apologies for that; it is one of the reasons why we are so vastly oversubscribed and have waiting lists of parents that want to send their child to our school. I know that you value those standards and so I thank you for supporting us in upholding them.

    On the subject of standards, I must remind parents that my discretion in authorising term-time holidays or other periods of absence is extremely limited by law and can only be done with plenty of notice and with supporting evidence. This can lead to very tricky conversations if a parent has already taken their child out of school and then asks me to authorise the absence with minimal evidence. The safest option is always to plan absences during school holidays or on weekends; I know that may not always tie in with parent work patterns and that holidays at that time are expensive (I know - I haven’t had anything other than an expensive holiday for over 20 years!) but they are not reasons that I can legally authorise an absence. Thanks again for your support.

    Finally, those of you that drop your child off at school will see another new face on the school site from Monday morning. Ashley Chapman will be joining the school as our new Deputy Headteacher next week as part of our expanded leadership team. He will be our strategic pastoral leader, working closely with Mrs Anderson and Mr Sinclair to provide students and families with the best standards in respect of safeguarding, SEND, behaviour and personal development. I am sure you will all get to meet him in due course and he is keen to join us and get started.

    Have a lovely weekend.

    Mr Groak

    Headteacher

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  • WEEK 34 - Friday 17 June 2022

    Published 20/06/22

    Sometimes it is just the smallest act of kindness that makes it all worthwhile. This week, it has been quite common to see students arriving at school in the morning with present bags or bunches of flowers. And then, at the end of the day, we have seen staff colleagues heading to their cars with the same flowers and gifts. This week, I myself received a bar of Latvian chocolate from a Year 13 student who I have taught and who wanted to share with me a chocolate bar from his home country. These small gifts do wonders for teachers and support staff and demonstrate that the hard work that they have put into supporting and teaching our young people really are appreciated.  

    But we do not need to be given a gift to be appreciated. Last week, Mrs Newman, Assistant Head of Year 9, left us to take up a position elsewhere. On her final few days, various students from her year group came to find her to wish her well, to thank her and to give her gifts. The item that touched her the most was a handmade card that had been put together by a couple of dozen students, some of whom had not always seen eye-to-eye with Mrs Newman (to put it mildly). Each of them had written a lovely, heartfelt message which really summed up the importance of the relationships that our staff have with students. The one that struck home the best for me was the one that simply said, “Whatever it is, u just sort it.  Thanx.’ ‘Thank yous’ go a long way and are really appreciated. Thanks also to those of you that sent best wishes to Mrs Newman and to those that have contacted the school to thank staff for the support of your child in Year 11 and Year 13. 

    Mrs Todd (Head of Year 10) has written to her parents reiterating our uniform policy and especially that which relates to girl’s choice of skirts. It is always tempting as we get close to the end of the school year to lower our expectations around school uniform but that is not, and never will be, our stance. Our students expect to be taught well until the very last day of term and so we, in return, expect the highest of standards from them.  Please continue to support us with this and ensure that your child is wearing the correct uniform at all times before they leave home and that they know you will support us if they breach these policies.  This also applies to the wearing of jewellery, choice of hair colour and styles and piercings etc.  

    I wrote previously in this blog of my admiration for Bruce Springsteen and those of you that share this passion will know that he is going on the road again in 2023. To date, only European dates have been announced and so, a few weeks ago, I checked out the dates and looked at when I could realistically get to a show overseas. Most shows sold out in minutes and the only availability was a single ticket for a show in Sweden. And so, my 2023 Bruce Springsteen tour to date will consist of me travelling alone to Gothenberg on a Saturday next June. I don’t have any flights yet but I am going for it - and my excitement knows no bounds! My wife thinks I’m mad and the kids think I’m weird but, hey ho, you only live once!

    Have a lovely weekend and hopefully you can avoid the thunderstorms!

    Have a lovely weekend. 

    Mr Groak

    Headteacher

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  • WEEK 33 - Friday 10 June 2022

    Published 10/06/22

    Ласкаво просимо в Hessle!

    (Welcome to Hessle!)

    This week has seen the arrival of our first two Ukrainian students to Hessle High School and it has been great to have them with us. Both Year 8 students, Mira and Miroslava, turned up on Monday morning with their parents looking immaculate in their school uniforms and delighted to be able to resume their schooling after a period of time in their lives that we can barely imagine. A great deal of work has already gone into preparing for their arrival - thankfully, we have members of staff in school that can speak Ukrainian, Russian and Polish and these language skills have been invaluable in helping us to understand the needs of the children and their families so that we can get them settled into school. 

    We also have some marvellous students from Eastern Europe and these have been wonderful in helping to bridge the language gap and ensuring that Mira and Miroslava have begun to get to know the other students in their tutor group and in their teaching classes. We are also fortunate to have the services of Mrs Ridley in school who has worked with students of many nationalities over the years and who is very adept at integrating students with English as an additional language into our school, whilst also providing them with translation support. The rule of thumb is that younger students benefit from being integrated fully as soon as possible; ‘thrown in at the deep end’ in other words, so that they can quickly learn the language from mixing with other students.

    As they settle into the school, we look forward to getting to know them better and learning more about their country and their culture, to the benefit of our whole school community. We know of several other families that are currently settling into the area and who are intending to send their children to our school and we look forward to welcoming them too.

    At last the sunshine has arrived. Our school site is glorious on clear sunny days like today and it is fantastic to see the students enjoying the entirety of our school, playing sports or just sitting on the field chatting with friends. Let’s hope it continues.

    Have a lovely weekend. 

    Mr Groak

    Headteacher

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  • WEEK 32 - Friday 27 May 2022

    Published 27/05/22

    In a school building of over 1300 students and 150 adult staff, the only way of operating harmoniously is for everyone to adopt one of our core values: kindness. Kindness is a virtue in short supply in our world right now and we firmly believe that in order to instil this into our young people, it is our responsibility as adults to model it every moment of every day. No matter how we feel inside!

    The small acts of kindness that take place between our staff on a daily basis are truly wonderful to see. Lately, many of our staff have spent much of their time - lessons, and non-contact time - working with year 11 and 13 students in preparation for their examinations. In order to make this happen it is now commonplace to see other colleagues covering their break duties, nipping down to the canteen to grab lunch for them or just making them a hot cup of tea and delivering it to their room. The little things go a long way and when they are seen by our students, they carry even more weight.

    Recently, we have adopted a ‘Friday feedback’ quick survey inviting staff to identify anything that has caused them a problem during the previous week or anything they are concerned about for the week ahead. Often these are operational issues such as photocopiers that can’t do the job they were designed to do quickly or to spot a colleague who faces a particularly busy week so that we can try and help them out. It works well. We also ask staff to nominate a colleague who has done an act of kindness for them and I will then say ‘thank you’ on their behalf and on behalf of the school. This is a great pleasure and it gives the recipient a real boost. It is one of the great privileges of my job to be able to pass on praise to my staff, such as I was able to do the other day when a parent stopped me outside the school and paid a tribute to Mrs Coss, our Maths Teaching Assistant who had done such great work tutoring her daughter. When I relayed this to Mrs Coss, she smiled from ear to ear.  

    Finally, after half term, we will be welcoming our first Ukrainian refugee to our school, who will be going into Year 8. In recent weeks, my colleagues have held several meetings with the family, as well as their local sponsor family, to assess their needs and to determine what support will be needed. Over the coming weeks, we anticipate several more refugees will also be joining us, including at Penshurst and into our Sixth Form. When the time is right, we will hope to share some of their stories with our students so that we can all learn from the experience of offering them refuge and a safe place to study and thrive. It is a humbling responsibility but one we are proud to undertake.

    And so we reach half-term with the weather unsettled. My mum always says that ‘it can’t make its mind up’, but I hope that, regardless of the weather, you have some nice things planned for the extended Jubilee Bank Holiday weekend.  

    Have a lovely break and take care.

    Mr Groak

    Headteacher

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  • WEEK 31 - Friday 20 May 2022

    Published 20/05/22

    Last week, I held assemblies with the students. The subject I chose to talk about was ‘aspiration’ and I wanted to explore what I feel this word really means. It can often be interpreted as meaning a desire to achieve a particular status in life. I used to aspire to be an airline pilot, before that I wanted to play rugby league for Hull FC and cricket for Yorkshire. But in these fast changing times, it is almost impossible for students to visualise the type of jobs, careers or places they want to be when they are ten years older, let alone for the rest of their lives.

    To me, and to us at Hessle High School, ‘aspiration’ means setting yourself the highest standards and taking no shortcuts. It also means being prepared to step outside of your comfort zone and taking a controlled risk. This was my life journey, and it was the story I told the students. I started by showing them a picture of myself aged 12. At that age, I told them, I was the most awkward, shy boy you could imagine. I had no real confidence in myself and, apart from being quite bright, I had no aptitude for sport, music or much else. And that was me, for several years. Until I met a teacher who said that I ought to go to university. My parents knew that I was clever but they had never been to university themselves and had no clue how to make it happen. Thankfully, they found a way to back me and, aged 18, I left home to go and study at Leeds Polytechnic (it wasn’t even a proper university, back in those days!). At first, I shied away from student life and even once I had made new friends, it still didn’t give me much in the way of aspiration for achieving anything significant. But, crucially, because I had taken a controlled risk of leaving home, I had built some confidence and was able to take the next step in my life. Which was to travel.  

    In the years to come I travelled more and more, often travelling alone, and delving deeper into Asia. In between trips, I also took the step of setting up my own business. The combination of solo travel and running a business gave me independence and self-confidence that I never had as a child. And then came teaching and school leadership.

    My message to the students is that we are all capable of growth, and of moving ourselves out of the situation we find ourselves in. All it takes is a little ‘aspiration’ to be better, and the preparedness to take a small risk. Once you take those first steps, you are on your way.  

    Of course, I didn't know that when I was 12. Which is why we encourage our staff to have these conversations with our students. Recently, Mrs Davison talked to students about her experience of growing up in poverty in Poland and making a life for herself in the UK; Mr Scott spoke emotionally about his experiences at the hands of bullies at school and how he handled the situation and used it to make him stronger. As well as teaching them English, Maths, History or French, we also know the importance of just talking to students about life, and our own lives are endlessly fascinating to our students. We can all do this with young people, sometimes our own children but those of others. It is powerful to a young person.

    The first week of external exams have gone very well and Year 11s appear much more relaxed than they were a week ago. Next week is especially busy and I am grateful not only to parents of Year 11 students but to all of you for ensuring that all of our students are fully supported with uniform, equipment and the like. When our younger students are ‘on track’, it allows the staff to give that extra bit of focus to Year 11 and 13 students when they need it most.

    As the weather warms up, please ensure that your child always brings a drink to school (water is best). We have a number of locations for them to fill this up throughout the day and not only does this save you money in buying bottled water but also ensures that they stay hydrated.  

    The weather looks fine for the weekend; I hope you enjoy it. 

    Mr Groak

    Headteacher

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  • WEEK 30 - Friday 13 May 2022

    Published 13/05/22
    Amidst the pomp of the Queen’s Speech this week was reference to the new Schools Bill that the Government intends to bring into law in the next year. The arrival of a new Schools Bill generates mixed emotions in schools; potentially it has the
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  • WEEK 29 - Friday 6 May 2022

    Published 06/05/22

    I have written in this blog before about the value of uniform and why I believe it plays an important role in a child’s sense of place.  Most important of all, a school uniform is a great leveller, enabling young people to thrive and excel through their talents and their character. The distraction of what to wear is a significant one for all young people and, when they have no real choice on that matter during a school week, it means that they can focus on matters of greater importance. That is my personal view and it is the school’s firm position on uniform.

    Uniform, however, also extends to matters such as jewellery, piercings etc. It is a common point raised by students, and some parents, often sadly with the assistance of low-quality media, which asks, ‘what has my hair colour got to do with my learning?’ At face value, it is a reasonable question and one that we seek to answer for students as we can understand where it comes from.  

    We answer it thus; your hairstyle is a personal choice and, for many young people, it is a way of expressing their personality or may be an important element of their faith or ethnicity. When these choices are made within a range of what is acceptable, they provoke very little comment and are personal to the individual. However, if we permit young people to choose any form of hair style or accessorisation then this becomes a distraction from learning. It becomes a discussion point and, in some cases, it becomes something that other children seek to copy, placing a burden on parents. Collectively, the staff at Hessle have worked across a very wide range of educational settings and we have seen schools which adopt a more relaxed approach to uniform, hair styles, jewellery and so on. In the vast majority of cases, the staff in these schools spend a disproportionate amount of time dealing with issues arising from bullying, peer disputes, damage to personal property, parental complaints and other non-learning matters. I hope that you feel our uniform policy promotes high standards. Each day, I stand near the front gate and am delighted to see such high standards of dress and compliance with our uniform policy. Our students are smart, comfortable and, most important of all, ready to learn without distractions.

    When it comes to uniform, we therefore have several aims. Ensuring that we maintain those high standards and, if and when we do change it, making sure that we communicate early and clearly. Equally, we want to ensure that it is affordable.

    Recently, legislation was passed in Parliament to ensure that schools paid strict attention to the costs of school uniform. This was slightly misreported as an attack on uniform in some parts of the press. The target of this legislation are the small number of schools which insist that uniform is bought from one monopolistic supplier or that most items of uniform are branded. The consequence of this is often extremely expensive outlay for parents which can deter some families from choosing such schools. We believe that the cost of uniform should never prevent a parent from choosing to send their child to our school and, in my time at Hessle, I have never heard that has ever been the case.

    We know that several schools in Hull and the East Riding have introduced branded trousers and/or skirts. Whilst I understand the reasons for doing so, we decided that the cost of these items for parents would be prohibitive. We have, therefore, maintained our uniform expectations for next year which prescribe a branded blazer, tie and sportswear, but allows parents the choice of using alternative suppliers for shirts, trousers, skirts and shoes.

    Prior to this, we undertook a review of the cost of our uniform for 2022-23. Using our approved supplier for branded items (blazer, tie, sports kit and hoody) and a supermarket for other items that may be required throughout the year (six shirts, four pairs of trousers or skirts and two pairs of shoes), the cost would be approximately £145 for a boy and around £152 for a girl wearing a skirt (although they may choose to wear trousers instead). 

    For an entirely unbranded school uniform (i.e. blazer bought from a supermarket with no badge, no branded sportswear etc) the cost would be £95 for a uniform with trousers and £101 for a uniform with a skirt.

    The maximum overall difference between the branded and unbranded uniform for a boy or a girl is therefore £51. While we recognise that this still may present a challenge for some families, we believe that, providing our uniform expectations are presented to families in a consistent and reasonable time frame, it is possible to budget for this cost.  Importantly, the cost of a uniform is significantly lower than no uniform at all, which would place parents at the mercy of whatever fashions were of the moment.

    Furthermore, each year we work closely with our uniform supplier and families to support those that struggle to provide uniform for their child.  In addition to the support offered by Rawcliffes and the school, I have also known of some of our staff personally buying uniform for some children or laundering it to help families out. This kind of support happens up and down the country in schools and is sadly not reported when the media wish to portray schools as profiting from uniform sales.

    We are living in a time where the rising cost of living is affecting everyone and this will hit those on the lowest incomes especially hard. We stand with those families and will do everything we can to support them with the costs of uniform whilst also ensuring that every child can arrive in school smartly dressed and ready to focus on their learning and development.

    As always, your support with uniform on a daily basis is hugely appreciated.  Thank you. 

    Finally, this week we were overwhelmed with applications for places on our Key Stage 3 Geography trips. Thankfully, we were able to offer additional dates and more spaces for those that wished to participate. This shows the pent-up desire for students to get out and explore wider learning opportunities. Unfortunately, in underestimating the demand, we caused some anxiety to families who felt that they were going to miss out on this opportunity and I apologise for that.  

    Normally, for popular trips (as this turned out to be) we operate an ‘expression of interest’ system which allows for a window of time in which people can register their interest in attending a trip. This allows all families the chance to receive, open and process the initial letter from school, rather than just those that have easiest access to a PC. Once the expressions of interest window is open it enables all families an equal chance of obtaining a place on the trip. As I said, we did not give advance notice of this process on this occasion, we should have done and I apologise. In the event, we hope that all Year 7 and Year 8 students who wish to go on the trip will be able to.

    Some of you got in touch to ask me how my daughter’s first visit to a Super League game went last Saturday and I have to tell you that she loved it, especially the bouncy castles in West Park and meeting the Airlie Bird mascot. She was attending because my son was recovering from an operation and so we had a spare season pass. The upshot of all of that is that I now need another season pass and my Saturday afternoons spent with my pals have become something quite different altogether!

    Enjoy the weekend

    Mr Groak

    Headteacher

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  • WEEK 28 - Friday 29 April 2022

    Published 29/04/22

    A few weeks ago, I reported on the success of some of our sports teams and I am delighted to tell you that this winning streak has continued across a number of sports and year groups. Yesterday afternoon, our Year 8 Boys’ Football team were victorious in the East Yorkshire Cup Final against South Hunsley school.  I know that Head of Year, Mrs Taylor - not normally a football fan! - has followed their run to the final with interest and she was as delighted as anyone when they returned to school with their medals and trophy. Congratulations to the boys and to their coaching staff, Mr Griffiths, Mr Adams and Mr Read.

    Also in Year 8, the Boys’ Rugby League team, led by Mr Compton, achieved a big win over Sirius Academy on Tuesday, winning by 40-16. This victory has earned them a place in the Cup Final which will take place in the coming weeks. Another great success which shows we have some real sporting talent in Year 8.

    Elsewhere, in Year 9, another of our Boys’ Rugby League teams were also victorious, this time over the boys from Sirius Academy North, winning 44-12. They will now also play in the Cup final once their opponents are known.

    In recent years, we have had great success in providing rugby league players for the professional game. Jez Litten (Hull KR) and Brad Fash and Jordan Lane (both Hull FC) all came through the school in recent years and it was great to see Jordan captaining the Hull FC team last weekend for the first time. I am sure these role models (and they were fantastic lads when they were at school) will continue to inspire the boys currently playing in Years 8 and 9 to achieve even greater success.

    Another of our alumni has also been in the news lately. Lucy Beaumont is an ex-student who has achieved great success as a comedian and TV star. Her most recent project, Hullraisers, has recently been showing on Channel 4 and is earning some good reviews showing that it is possible for our students to find success in a wide and varied walks of life.

    Of course, the future stars are still with us in school and I can report that we have had a very smooth return to school this week. Year 11 in particular have quickly adapted to the reality that their exams have already begun in some subjects whilst our other year groups are responding well to the expectation that the very best behaviours are expected of them in order that Year 11 (and Year 13) are not distracted in any possible way from the tasks that lay ahead for theme.

    Thankfully also we have reported very very few positive Covid cases. Long may this continue and we sincerely hope that the examination period can therefore go ahead with no major disruption for the first time since 2019.

    Finally, I am delighted to be able to announce that, from September, Hessle Academy will have an additional Deputy Headteacher. The growth of our school in recent years (approximately 25% increase in numbers on roll over the past four years) means that, not only have we needed more classroom teachers, but we also decided that additional senior leadership is required. The recruitment process took place before Easter and Ashley Chapman has been appointed. Ashley is currently an Assistant Headteacher at Archbishop Sentamu School and has worked in several other Hull schools. He lives in the local area and is firmly committed to continuing to drive up standards at Hessle Academy. I am sure you will get the opportunity to meet Ashley early in the new Academic year.

    Tomorrow is an important day in the Groak household as my daughter, Ebony, will be going to her first ever Hull FC fixture. She has been relatively slow to acquire the bug but, at the age of seven, she has now declared herself ready to ‘go to rugby with daddy’. Sadly, this means that I will have to forsake my pre-match pint and visit the bouncy castles in West Park instead but it will be worth it to see another Groak in a black and white shirt! 

    Whatever you are doing over the Bank Holiday, enjoy it.  

    Mr Groak

    Headteacher

     

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  • WEEK 27 - Friday 8 April 2022

    Published 08/04/22

    “Are you on holiday again?” asked a friend of mine when I told him that today was the end of the Spring Term.  “You have more holidays than Judith Charmers.”

    Apart from being an 80s TV reference that most people won’t understand, this is quite a typical response from non-teachers when they hear that we are breaking up for ‘another holiday’.  I have to confess that was also my sentiment before I became a teacher too.  “Thirteen weeks holiday and you finish at three o’clock?  What a life?” is still something I hear from folk.  I have neither the time nor the energy to try and rebut that impression and I actually feel that the majority of people do now realise that a teacher’s job is so much more than this and, if they didn’t, then the months of lockdown and home schooling at least showed people how tough it is to manage and teach just one or two children, let alone a classful.  But, listen, I’m not asking for any sympathy.  We choose this job.  Just as people who envy our holidays are more than welcome to come and join us in schools.  But where there is still a misconception between those who work in schools and those who don’t, is around the impact of the last few months of Covid.  

    The perception in many quarters is that this pandemic is over, we are all getting back to normal and the sooner we do so the better.  If only that were the case in schools.  To put it into perspective, we have had more positive cases since February Half Term than in the whole of the rest of the pandemic put together.  Around 90% of cases are related to students and every one of these is tracked to ensure students return at the right time and, when they do, all of the staff do their best to help them ‘catch up’.  Alongside this, and where it relates to Year 11 and 13 students is the anxiety of the impact on their exams.  This can manifest itself in young people feeling down or suffering worse symptoms of mental health.  On other occasions, it shows in misbehaviour with students more irritable and prone to falling out with peers or staff.  Our colleagues handle this with aplomb, every single day.

    An even bigger impact is when staff are absent.  A teacher’s day usually consists of them standing in front of a class of thirty children for four or five lessons.  When they’re absent, the children are still there but someone else needs to substitute.  This can either be supply staff (there are very few people available) or other staff (who all have their own jobs to do).  In other words, the job still needs doing, it cannot wait.  We can cope with this when there are only a handful of staff absent but when it reaches 10% or more as it has done, the impact on the rest of staff is brutal.  I know that there have been times when colleagues may have struggled to return calls promptly this term and I thank you for your understanding and support.  

    The past few weeks have seen some great sporting successes for our girls and boys teams.  Please keep in touch with these via Twitter and the Head of Year Blogs.  What amazes me is not only the dedication of the students but also the staff, some of whom are running several sports teams and spending their early evenings taking students all over the county to take part in sports.  This is what schools are about and reminds me of my High School days when I struggled (mostly unsuccessfully) to make it into the Sir Henry Cooper High School Rugby League team.  On the few occasions when everyone else was injured and I was selected, I used to love the minibus trips across the city to play rugby.  Great times and I’m delighted that so many of our students are benefiting from this in the same way.

    Finally, if we make it through the airport delays, the Groak family are heading off to Spain in the morning for a week in the sunshine.  I’m delighted to hear that many of my colleagues are also heading abroad, some of them for the first time in a couple of years.  Their holidays are well earned and will bring them back refreshed and ready to give their very best to our young people next term.

    Whatever you are doing over the Easter break, enjoy it and take care.

    Mr Groak

    Headteacher

     

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  • WEEK 26 - Friday 1 April 2022

    Published 01/04/22

    Those of you whose children attended Penshurst Primary school may already have heard on the grapevine that Mrs Jo Spencer, who has been Head of School since 2011, will be leaving the school later this year.  She has been successful in her first Headteacher interview (a very rare achievement) and will take up a Headship at another East Riding school in September.  Of course, we are delighted for Jo and very proud of her successful appointment.  But those sentiments are tinged with regret. Jo has been a much-valued and trusted colleague for many years, especially since I took over as Head of the all-through school, Hessle Academy, in 2019. We have worked closely together since and I hope she has found the experience as rewarding and enjoyable as I have.

    But time moves on and, essentially, Jo wants to run her own school and to make her own strategic decisions about how her school develops and I completely support her with that. She will be a big loss but, when the school re-opens in September, we will continue to provide great education and care for our pupils. We will begin the recruitment process for a replacement very shortly and I will keep you posted on developments.

    Next week sees the interviews for a new Deputy Headteacher at Hessle High School. This is a new post brought about due to the rise in student numbers that we have seen in recent years. We have a very strong field made up of experienced leaders, internal and external, and this time next week, I will be able to let you know who has been successful. When commencing a process such as this, I am daunted by the responsibility we take on. It reminds me of the time in 2010 when I turned up at Hessle High for an interview to be an Assistant Headteacher. I was certainly put through my paces and I often wonder what would have happened to me and my career, if I had been unsuccessful on that day. It is doubtful that I would have become a Headteacher without the influence and inspiration of people such as Andrew Jolley, Mick Davison and of course Sarah Young who made up the leadership team back then. And now it is my turn, with my team, to make a decision on Tuesday which will transform someone else’s career and life. And of course, change the direction of the school in some way. It is a great responsibility and a deep privilege.

    Last week, the Government published their Education White Paper, some of which was reviewed in the press. This is a pretty meagre document which pulls together a few policies that the Government were already pushing such as increased Academisation and more tutoring. Most school leaders, myself included, feel that this is a missed opportunity to build on some of the rapid innovations in technology that most schools have experienced to deliver some more ambitious changes to our schools system. But, sadly, not. The main headline was the demand for a 32.5 hour school week. The vast majority of schools offer this already and, where they don’t, it is usually due to a shortened lunch period. Once again, a headline with little substance. On the positive side, we are not facing huge turmoil in our system that we did some years ago when our exams and accountability systems were turned upside down and inside out at the same time. As a school that is already an academy, which offers tuition (but would like to do more) and which delivers 32.5 hours per week, there will be little dramatic change.  

    Finally, with one week left until the end of term, I can report some positive news about Covid. The number of student and staff cases has dropped considerably in recent days and we are starting to see staff return to work. I was back on Tuesday and, fingers crossed, we should see most of our staff all back at some stage next week.  Their resilience never fails to amaze me and hopefully we can all go into the Easter break able to enjoy our holiday with friends and family.  I know that non-teachers always raise an eyebrow when we talk about the need for a holiday (I did the same before I joined the profession!) but twelve and a half weeks since Christmas has felt like twice as long and we’re just about ready for a break.  I know the students will be too.

    Enjoy the weekend and take care. 

    Have a lovely weekend

    Mr Groak

    Headteacher

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  • WEEK 25 - Friday 25 March 2022

    Published 25/03/22

    I knew something wasn’t quite right when I woke up on Monday morning. The weariness and lingering headache didn’t really feel like any normal cold or mid-term bug. After labouring to make a cup of coffee, I grabbed a Lateral Flow Test and, two minutes later, yelled an obscenity which I won’t repeat here. Suddenly, my week had been turned upside down and, rather than facing a busy but exciting week in school, I have been condemned to spending most of the week in front of a screen in my office at home, from where I am writing this now on Friday morning.

    Apart from the benefit of being able to get on top of some paperwork and report-writing, it has been a frustrating week and one that I know many of you will have experienced at some point over the past two years. Of course, I have tried hard not to pass it onto my family and it has been awful not being able to hug my children or even sit and watch TV with them. Whenever there is a Test Match on, my son and I are usually inseparable in front of the TV discussing how the batters and bowlers are performing but, this week, we have been reduced to watching in different rooms and texting each other! One day, they say, we will look back and laugh at some of the things we have had to do during Covid but I’m not so sure about that.

    I am not the only member of staff with the virus at the moment and my first online meeting of the day was to look at the projected number of absences we are facing next week and how we can juggle events and diaries to ensure that we have lessons and lunch duties covered. It is a stretch and will put lots of pressure on our wider staff team but, for the moment, we are able to continue normal timetables and activities. Should that change, I will of course give you as much notice as possible. Please bear this in mind if any of my colleagues are not as responsive to any queries you may have in the coming days and weeks and thank you for your support.

    You would think that school leaders would spend most of their time talking about teaching and learning, or about curriculum, but you would be amazed at how much time we actually spend talking about matters that we never would have considered important when we first entered the profession.

    Last Wednesday, for instance, the Senior Leadership Team spent nearly an hour discussing the length of lunchtime. This might give you a flavour of the discussion….

    “So, we’re back to summer lunch durations now and how is it going?” I started.

    “Well the split lunch is essential now. With our larger numbers, it is the only way we can get 1200 through the canteen.”

    “Agreed, but do we need fifty minutes for Cohort B?”

    “No, it’s too long. For the last ten minutes, they’re just bored.”

    “I would prefer a shorter lunch - 35 minutes is about right.”

    “But that’s not long enough for the staff. If you’re teaching five lessons and have a duty, that’s barely enough time for a brew and a wee!”

    “Agreed. Do we need to keep the staggered times? That complicates things and means that Cohort B needs to have a different duration from Cohort A.”

    “The stagger is vital. Again, with such high numbers of students, the stagger helps the flow around the building.”

    “So, we’re agreed that we need the stagger. 35 minutes is too short and 50 minutes is too long.  We’re getting somewhere. Let’s consult with staff and bring that back for a final decision. Now, which year groups should be in which cohort?”

    “Well, we have five year groups so one cohort is going to be bigger than another.”

    “We could split a year group?”

    “We could, but that reduces the social contact for the year group affected. That’s not fair. I wouldn’t want that for my child.”

    “Agreed, so we need to put three year groups together. Which ones?”

    And so it went on. And these are the kind of discussions we have on so many occasions, about the school day, school uniform, behaviour strategies, school events and so on. We bring together our collective experience and wisdom (such that it is!), combine it with what we know about our students and best practice in other schools and we make decisions. It helps that many of us are parents ourselves and know how the decision of a school impacts children and family life. We don’t always get things right but it is not for the want of trying and I would hope that we are confident enough to admit when we get things wrong and can make the changes we need to put it right.

    I know that we have made too many changes to the structure of the school day over the past two years. Covid has forced us to make changes but we have probably over complicated things at times.  This is why we are determined that the decision we reach around the school day can be a permanent one - which is why we are spending so long discussing it!

    One of the advantages of sitting at home with Covid is the time it has given me to reflect on a few things and I know how important stability and certainty are when building trust between families and schools. Covid has raised the potential for that stability to be weakened but we are determined that will not be the case at our school. Change is not sudden or knee jerk. Change must not be for its own sake, it has to be progressive and result in our school being stronger and better. That is what our students need and deserve.

    Have a lovely weekend

    Mr Groak

    Headteacher

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  • WEEK 24 - Friday 18 March 2022

    Published 18/03/22

    Whilst on lunch duty a few weeks ago, one of our students asked me why I always walk around with a blue jacket on, carrying a walkie-talkie.

    “It’s to make sure we can keep you safe,” I answered.

    The student looked puzzled. “How does a blue jacket keep me safe?” he asked. After I had explained why myself and other staff wear bright blue jackets so that there is a visible adult to whom they can speak to if they are unwell or feel vulnerable or unsafe, I reflected upon the question. Do all the students understand what we do to keep them safe? Probably not, we felt, and so, this week, we have spent time with our students, starting with our younger ones, explaining to them all of the processes and facilities that we have to look after them. Let me share some of them with you…

    When our new building opened in 2016, it was built along a very simple open plan design. This allows for very straight sightlines down corridors and lots of visibility over balconies and atriums. This means that just a handful of staff can supervise an entire school building when students are moving around it. In addition, we have CCTV installed inside and outside of the school. Behaviour in our school is good; however, we have over 1200 young people inside each day and mistakes are made. This high degree of visibility and CCTV ensures that we can investigate incidents if they arise and prevent it from happening again.

    Sticking with our building layout, we operate a one-way system on corridors and a keep left route on staircases. This ensures swift and smooth movement and reduces risks of congestion and accident. Due to the straight corridors, this is easy to supervise and monitor too.  

    Following Covid, we retained the use of our year-group social zones. This is of particular benefit for our younger students who know that there is an area in which they can play and socialise without contact with older students, should they wish.  

    Back to the blue jackets and we have a carefully planned duty rota of staff during break and lunch. When I was at school in the 1980s it was very different; the teachers would sit in the staff room (playing darts and smoking, as I recall!) whilst dinner ladies tried their best to supervise us on the field and playground. I have to confess that this did not make me feel very safe, but schools are so much different nowadays. Each break and lunch, there are a minimum of thirteen staff on duty in busy locations, including most of the senior leadership team. This presence ensures a calm environment and means that students have plenty of staff they can speak to if necessary. I myself spend between 2-3 hours per day on duty, which is an invaluable part of my job enabling me to monitor behaviour and attitudes but, most importantly, to chat with the students about their hobbies, interests, ambitions and sometimes even their schoolwork!

    Our duties cover the entire site which is marked out by our perimeter fence which ensures there can be no unwanted visitors during the day, as well as no temptation for students to slip out of school. At the safeguarding gate, traffic measures are also in place to make sure that vehicles do not pose a risk either.

    Nearby, our reception team greet visitors but even here there are tight controls on who is allowed to enter the school premises and whether they may be unaccompanied or not. Students and parents can be assured that we know exactly who is on our site and what their business is.  

    Most of the time, students are oblivious to what we do to keep them safe, and rightly so. It is our job to think about risks - we just want them to enjoy being safe - but, every now and again, it is important that they recognise that ‘school rules’ have a purpose and why it is important that we all have respect for them. I can tell you that there has been some very interesting feedback from students this week, who have shared comments such as, ‘oh, so that’s why we are escorted to the sickbay’ or ‘now I understand why I have to take a longer route to the canteen at lunch’ and ‘I wondered what the blinking red light on the corridor was; I thought it was Santa-cam!’. Okay, I made the last one up, but we have had some very interesting conversations which we hope has made our young people feel even safer in school and have a greater respect for our school rules.

    One of the highlights of this week has been the assemblies delivered on the subject of ‘resilience’ by English Teacher, Mrs Davison. Each day, Mrs Davison has related her own deeply personal journey from Poland, where she was born and raised, living in very poor conditions and experiencing parental alcoholism and family breakdown. She spoke of the challenges that she faced, securing herself an education, relocating to another country, dealing with the trauma of her upbringing, learning a new language and then carving for herself a highly successful career in teaching and school leadership. You could hear a pin drop as the students listened to her story. The message was that nobody has to be the product of their circumstances and, through resilience and determination, we can achieve far more than we might expect. It was very emotional and deeply affecting for the students. 

    And so we reach the end of another week and the prospects for the weekend and beyond are that we are set for some warm and sunny days. Our school field will be open from next week which brings a whole new dimension to schooldays, allowing students to enjoy the full site and the improving weather. Whatever you are doing this weekend, I hope you enjoy the sunshine and have a lovely weekend.

    Have a lovely weekend.  

    Mr Groak

    Headteacher

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