21 May 2021

The Monday Briefing: Don't ever change (Goodbye Year 13)

The Monday Briefing: Dont ever change (Goodbye Year 13)

With Year 13s about to embark on study leave and with their final assessments looming, crucial in helping to determine their final Teacher Assessed Grades, it is with sadness that I will soon be bidding farewell to the first cohort of university bound students in my tenure as Principal at the College.

In producing this blog, my mind was transported back to when I left for university from Kirkland High School, in Methil, an industrial town in the region of Fife in Scotland. The area is depicted excellently in this Guardian article from 2003:

“Kirkland is a low-slung edifice, so ugly that it has a certain brutalist charm, bordered on one side by a green synthetic playing field. It sits at the heart of a village that is all 1960s hutch-housing, with no charm, brutalist or otherwise. Methil is a hard, hard place; Kirkland the sort of school Diane Abbott might represent but would never send her son to.”

In all honesty, I can’t say that my memories of high school were overwhelmingly positive, or that I was particularly proud to be there. A very small percentage of my year group made it through to the end and on to university, and I can not recall particularly strong relationships between the teacher and student bodies. Things seem to have deteriorated further since my time, made clear in a recent article in the Scottish Sun. 

To quote the story from 2016, “Cops were called to a scandal-hit high school after a pupil claimed he was “frogmarched” out of class by two teachers. The boy told officers he had been left with a bruised arm and a ripped bag as a result of the incident at the school … the latest in a string of alleged violent episodes at the school, including claims that a pupil threw a can of Irn-Bru at a teacher’s head.”

In studying the league tables for achievement, comparing the performance of Scottish state schools the other day, I was disappointed, but not at all surprised, to find my old school, which has been closed down and incorporated into a neighbouring establishment, languishing at 332nd place in the rankings, just 8 places above the worst performing school in the country. It was bad when I was there, and worse now. 

Like it or not, however, it taught me much about life, and the desire one needed to succeed. I was ambitious, however, to get away rather than to get better. I thrived, and made the most of my talents, largely because I was fearful of the life I might be consigned to if I didn’t. I became a self-sufficient, independent learner with only sporadic encouragement of teaching staff rather than being the beneficiary of nurturing support.

Perhaps the lasting effect of my schooling was the urge to right such wrongs by removing barriers to learning and development for young people where at all possible. 

This academic year, of course, has been particularly challenging and the Year 13 group has, collectively, achieved so much: displaying incredible reserves of resilience to thrive through such difficult times in the pandemic; emerging from it as rounded and compassionate individuals who will enhance the universities they join; leaving a legacy of improvement and development both within themselves and around the College. It was in reading the latest edition of Distinct, the College magazine, which includes a wonderful commemorative feature on their time here, that I took a moment to pause and reflect on the section with an immense amount of pride at how far they have all come, and the positive impact that this institution has made in their lives.

Within it, each and every one of them shared words of advice for the their peers embarking on the next chapter of their lives, expressed gratitude for the teaching, support and guidance they had received here, gave recommendations for those in the year below and received poignant messages from the staff who have invested so much time into helping them be the best they can be.

I felt it a good idea to share some of the comments from the student body to their teachers and vice versa. They tell of a mature group of young people ready for the next step on their journeys, thankful for the help of those who have supported them in the pursuit of their goals and who, above all, will be greatly missed. Their words fill me with optimism for the world moving forward. More than ever, we need young people keen to seize the day, and bestow their positive values on the wider world.

In gratitude for the support of the staff, from students:

“The size of the college really contributes to the academic atmosphere and emphasises the importance of studies. The staff go above and beyond to help the students.”

“The interactive environment and personal attention that my tutor and respective teachers had given towards improving my understanding of subjects - it was unlike any I've experienced before.”

“Teachers go out of their way to make sure you have everything you need to achieve your max.”

“Favourite part of EIC is that they allow you to work independently, as well as being there when you need help, and will continue to help you until you understand.”

“The compassion and thoughtfulness of the staff and the dedication they have to our education.”

“My favourite part of EIC is equality. Everyone is accepted for who they are.”

“The freedom the teachers give you to help you achieve your goals. Especially with UCAS, incredibly helpful.”

“EIC allows us to be independent. It's a place where students are encouraged to thrive and acquire valuable skills.”

“The teachers at EIC have always been really supportive, helpful and dedicated towards student enrichment and development.”

“The fact that students are encouraged to get involved in activities around the school and the student body is a huge part of how things are run here.”

“The teachers encourage independence whilst pushing you outside of your comfort zone, helping you be the best possible version of yourself.”

And the response from their teachers:

“Teaching you ... has been an absolute joy and, at times, after classes, I have felt that I learned far more from you than you did from me.”

“I can honestly say that I have never enjoyed working with a group of young people more than I have enjoyed working with you.”

“A strong legacy has been left by you all to build on, and you can all say that you were part of making the College a better place in difficult circumstances”

You were always “a group that made the College a generally warmer and nicer place to be.”

“This has been a unique year for everyone and I am very proud of how you overcame the obstacles.”

“You're a resilient, empathetic, funny and very brave group of students, and it's been a delight to teach you all”

You “have been one of the most fun, relaxed and good company groups I’ve had in many years.”

“I am always quite jealous of students leaving our college and getting ready for the next step in their lives. I know it can be very stressful when you are in the middle of all the uncertainty, but it is also very exciting to have all options open and to see where your choices bring you.”

“When you look at how far almost all of you have come academically in the last year or two, it is extraordinary and genuinely fills me with faith for the future of our society.”

“We have constantly said that you all need to stay positive and as we near the end of the year I can congratulate you and say how proud I am of you.”

There can be no doubt that teaching and learning is a two way process, and that the right formula, of give and take, can be difficult to find. It needs trust, honesty and commitment. I can still recall very well my formative years, when much of the time, it seemed a fraught struggle to succeed. 

I’m proud to say that Ealing is different: students and staff work together to get the best of one another in a climate of mutual respect, and I’m absolutely dedicated to ensuring that such a hard-won partnership is never compromised.

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