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Hessle High School

WEEK 10 - Friday 19 November 2021

This week I have spent a great deal of time in the company of other school leaders.  On Wednesday, I was in Birmingham at the School and Academies Show where over one thousand school leaders met and listened to national leaders reflect on the state of education in England at the moment. Yesterday, I was on Bransholme, at Winifred Holtby School, meeting with my fellow headteachers who lead the schools in our Academy Trust.  I am very fortunate to work alongside such committed and dedicated colleagues as we strive to improve learning not just in our own schools but across the area that we can influence.

This week I have spent a great deal of time in the company of other school leaders.  On Wednesday, I was in Birmingham at the School and Academies Show where over one thousand school leaders met and listened to national leaders reflect on the state of education in England at the moment. Yesterday, I was on Bransholme, at Winifred Holtby School, meeting with my fellow headteachers who lead the schools in our Academy Trust.  I am very fortunate to work alongside such committed and dedicated colleagues as we strive to improve learning not just in our own schools but across the area that we can influence.

One thing that struck me was the desire of everyone to collaborate. Covid has shown us that, in the absence of effective school leadership from the politicians, it is the school leaders on the ground who invariably made the best decisions around what  was best for their children and communities. This level of collaboration is continuing as we slowly emerge from the worst of the pandemic, and it is great to see. You may ask ‘why is not always thus’? And so I feel that I must explain.

The national accountability framework for schools is designed to demonstrate which schools make the best progress for their students. That is fine in principle but the means for doing so (Progress 8) is fundamentally flawed in the sense that it pits schools against each other. It shows which schools are above average and which aren't and, of course, not everyone can be above average! It is a zero-sum game - for one school to increase its Progress 8 score, another school must see theirs dip. In other words, we are incentivised to compete against one another. And in a setting such as education, this is madness. We should all be encouraged to share our best practice, not hoard it. We should be promoting collaboration, not competition. It is unthinkable that a similar system would be introduced into the health service for instance and yet in schools, it is considered the optimum way to drive improvement.

Fortunately, most headteachers see the benefits of working together, even more so since Covid, and collaboration marches on.

However, there is one other very damaging consequence of this drive to compete and that comes around ‘comparable outcomes’. In order to avoid the accusations of ‘grade inflation’, the examination boards are only permitted to award a certain number of grades each year. For example, only around 20% of students are able to achieve a Grade 7 in English each year and the same rule applies to every other grade and every other subject. This means that, in any given year, around one-third of all GCSE-aged students will not be able to achieve the threshold of Grade 4s in English and Maths and this ratio is predetermined before they have even sat down to do an examination. It won’t matter how well they perform, if they finish outside of the top 60-70%, they will not be able to achieve a Grade 4. In no other walk of life, to my knowledge, do we impose such a cap on potential. Imagine sitting your driving test only to be told that, at the end of the test, you hadn’t passed because the quota of passes had already been allocated for that year!

When I explain this to people, the usual response is shock that such a system could be permitted to operate but the reality is that the exam system is mainly there to provide a conveyor belt for colleges and universities and, to a lesser extent, employers and apprenticeships. The grading system allows these organisations to rank young people and determine who is better qualified from a pool of people. It does very little to actually tell us what a student can actually do.  

This is why our Academy Vision focuses on the whole student and aims to produce young people ‘with exceptional character’ and with ‘cultural and global awareness’ but, as it stands, there is no formal way of this being recognised in a way that universities or employers would accept.

Fortunately, there is an alternative to this and it is being put forward energetically by the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), a professional organisation that represents school leaders. Their blueprint for education would lead to a radical overhaul of the exams system resulting in something which would enable all young people to leave school with a clear statement of what they can do, and have done, during their school life, recognising voluntary work, community service, sporting and artistic endeavour. They are pushing it hard with Government ministers and I personally hope that we may see some change before too long. It is long overdue.

It is at this time of the year that our school and students are especially involved within the local community. Last weekend, I was delighted that a group of our students were present to mark the Remembrance Sunday service in Hessle and, next week, we will also have some of our young people performing at the Hessle Christmas Light Switch On. It is this kind of community support that is currently unrecognised in our exams system and one further reason why some form of change is necessary.

Sadly, in a school with over 1300 young people, we do hear of some of our students behaving poorly in the local community. This is rare, but please be reassured that we speak regularly to all of our students about the importance of positive community behaviour, about respecting others and the importance of taking pride in your school and its uniform. We always investigate and tackle any incidents that are reported to us, so please do not hesitate to let us know if you have concerns about the behaviour of our students especially when travelling to and from school. 

I firmly believe in the adage that “It takes a village to raise a child” and so we all must work together to build the behaviours that we want in our community. 

I always try to get to the Christmas Light Switch On and take my own children around the square to soak up the atmosphere. I hope to see you there.

Finally, and on the subject of the local community, we have been asked to promote a public consultation that is being carried out by the Hessle Town Council. We know in school that feedback from parents is invaluable, so please support your local council and its efforts to improve the town by completing the survey which can be found here.  As an extra incentive, one lucky participant will win £50 of meal vouchers to use in a Hessle restaurant or cafe and this is open to all ages.  

Take care and have a lovely weekend.

Mr V Groak

Headteacher