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Hessle High School

WEEK 30 - Friday 13 May 2022

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 power to bring change for the good but all too often it is used to make politicians appear that they are doing something to improve discipline or to tackle what some of them believe are lazy teachers and/or problem students.

Sadly this latest version is much the same. Most of its content seems to focus on the Government’s drive for further academisation. I am quite ambivalent about this. As someone who leads a school that operates in a medium sized MAT, I see the benefits of collaboration first hand.  During Covid, the support that the Headteachers provided to each other was invaluable and this working-together approach filters down to all levels of our schools and continues post-Covid. But this does not mean that it is suitable for all schools and there are very many examples of schools achieving fantastic outcomes and standards whilst being under Local authority control. Take two of our local schools as examples; neither Beverley Grammar or Beverley High School are academies and yet they consistently achieve great outcomes and both recently achieved an ‘Outstanding’ judgement from Ofsted. Under the Government’s plans, by 2030, both of these schools would have to make significant changes to the way that they are run and I would simply ask, ‘why?’ 

Much of the rest of the bill seems to focus on pupil attendance which is certainly something that needs addressing but there doesn’t appear to be any real substance to how they propose to do this and the Bill seems merely seeks to name and shame families who are having difficulty in getting their children into school, and to place more burden on schools to publish what they are doing rather than a proper programme of financially-supported collaboration to find out, and implement, what actually works.

Attendance at Hessle fell during covid - at some points it was around 85%. It is recovering now but is still 2-3% below pre-covid levels. The main reasons for this are the lack of resilience that some students have, having spent so long away from the routines of school, as well as the hugely complex challenges faced by some parents who are locked in a toxic situation which often combines unemployment, poverty and family breakdown. Add to that a pandemic and cost of living crisis and I cannot imagine how difficult that must be to keep a family going. Of course, most families cope admirably through setbacks but there are others who need more support and this Bill provides none of that support.  

Dealing with attendance is a thorny issue and I have written before about the limited amount of discretion that I have by law to authorise absence. And yet, we try to be sympathetic to difficult family situations. What we, and families need, is not targets or directives, but properly funded support.   

I went to a teacher’s conference recently where the Education Secretary, Nadim Zahawi, talked about the work that he expects schools to help improve life chances and to lift people out of poverty. To which a Headteacher stood up and asked him, “why don’t you just stop putting them into poverty in the first place?” Quite.

Finally, next week sees the start of the GCSE exams for Year 11 students. Whilst most of them have been completing coursework and doing practical and speaking exams for weeks, the first exam in the Sports Hall is always a seminal moment for them and their teachers. It is also a strange time for teachers and leaders - the first time since May 2019 that formal external exams have been held. Thankfully, we haven’t forgotten what to do and the usual support package has already been wheeled into action. Students will follow bespoke timetables for the next five weeks as they combine exams with focused revision lessons. All students will remain in school full time until their last exam and, if you are the parent of a Year 11 (or 13) student right now, your support in encouraging, reassuring and organising your child will benefit them enormously so that they can concentrate on the task ahead. It has never been more important for exam-year students to follow healthy routines - eating well, staying hydrated, following regular sleep patterns. These are at least as important as any revision that they do. It will not be long before it is over for them but for the next few weeks, I wish you as parents the very best of luck in living with them! 

Enjoy the weekend and hopefully the sun will be shining.  

Mr Groak

Headteacher