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16 January 2023

The Monday Briefing: Dear Friends

The Monday Briefing: Dear Friends

“No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care”

Theodore Roosevelt, President of the US from 1901-1909

Last week, I was teaching my Year 9 English group a comprehension exercise which featured a comparative task, analysing two articles which described two schools. 

One was a modern day primary school in Crompton, a suburb of Oldham, near Manchester written by an inspector, dazzled by the incredible job being carried out by the seemingly superhuman headteacher there; one was written by a despairing teacher in a ragged school in Victorian London, reeling from a week in the job containing fights between students and parents, burglaries and stones being thrown at him. Obviously, I was keen to identify the College with the former source, but it was a paragraph written in the latter source which resonated:

“No school can be possibly worse than this. Here the very appearance of one's coat is to them the badge of class and respectability, for they know very well that we are the representatives of beings with whom they have ever considered themselves at war.” 

Times were clearly very different in 1800s England, with the class divide being far more pronounced, at least on the surface. The sentences above, however, still ring very true. 

Where a teacher is seen as something akin to an enemy of a student, and the relationship lacks basic, fundamental trust, then there is absolutely no way that teaching and learning can thrive. It didn’t then and it can’t now.

I’ve taken a great deal of pleasure this weekend in proofreading the termly reports which will be going out to parents at the start of next week, explaining in detail the progress being made by their children, both formatively across the term week by week, and summatively in the end of term mock examinations.

Not only do the reports detail each and every minutiae in terms of student performance with regards to the important factors required for growth at the College: attendance levels; the standard of punctuality; instances of rewards for good conduct and sanctions for poor conduct; contributions to lessons, both positive and detrimental; homework and test scores. We know our students, and track them very closely in order to identify where they can maximise progress.

In addition, the reports feature detailed, personalised commentary on each student, their level of attainment, attitude to work and directions for improvement.

I’ve seen, through dealing with hundreds of students at the interview stage, as per our entry requirements, the standard of reports in other schools. Some favour a single-line piece of advice per subject after providing a summary on progress according to a code. Others go slightly further by offering something which resembles a flightpath with how close a student is to realising that. I have never seen reports as comprehensive as those offered at Ealing. I say this because if I did, I would immediately be looking to adapt them in order to improve their efficacy in bringing about student progress.  

They are time-consuming to write and staff clearly take a great deal of time in considering how best to formulate them - but they are absolutely worth the effort.

Why?

Because they provide transparency and the levels of trust which mean that we are firmly established as the guides who can get students to where they aspire to be. They give us another chance to show just how much we care: about the students, their wellbeing, their prospects, their futures, their lives. We know that we can make a hugely positive difference, because we have done exactly that for the many students who have been with us in the past. 

Of course, parents of students at the College do not just hear from the teachers three times a year. Biannual parents evenings give the opportunity for a face-to-face meeting with staff. But this is in no way groundbreaking - many schools offer an arrangement like this.

Where we differ is in ensuring that we have regular, monthly dialogue in place. From the early days of the year and a form tutor’s introductory email to parents, a direct line is instilled, allowing for structured conversation to emerge. Trust thrives through the Months Marks feedback which enables the building of layers in terms of knowledge of how ‘on track’ students really are, where they can make necessary changes in approach, and how best to improve. With this approach, they can make the changes required in a timely manner. Nothing is hidden. There are no surprises.

It is often remarked that parenting is the hardest role one can take on. To be successful in such a challenging task, one needs friends - friends who will tell it like it is, in no uncertain terms, whilst offering unconditional support. This is the role we play for our parents, and, indeed, for the students under our care.

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