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05 December 2022

The Monday Briefing: Heaven for Everyone

The Monday Briefing: Heaven for Everyone

I read with interest a thread on Twitter yesterday evening by Stuart Lock, the Chief Executive of Advantage Schools, who was discussing the need for endurance at this time of year from staff in schools. One particular part of the thread really resonated with me.

Lock stated that “I think the number 1 thing that impacts on workload and is hidden is behavioural drift. Behaviour gets microscopically worse week by week and then is suddenly much worse and like a boiling frog, we don't notice it happening. We are alert to this, but maybe not enough?”

My thoughts turned to part of Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, where he described the boiling frog theory with regards to climate change. A small and gradual creeping up of the temperature doesn’t seem to be prompting action. Humans adjust to their surroundings, and try to avoid drastic measures. ‘Behavioural drift’ happens similarly in schools. As the term develops, minor misbehaviours become more serious, and this becomes a serious enemy of academic progress. Without challenging this, control can be lost - and it can be hard to regain.

With one of the key parts of my remit being the management of behaviour at the College, I work very hard to ensure that standards are maintained. The College has only a few rules which must be adhered to. They are simple, easily understandable, and were created to drive and defend the push across the College to ensure that students become the very best versions of themselves that they can be.

Rule number one is that students are present and on time. We have reinforced the appetite for improvement in this area by empowering Maria in the office, who acts as attendance officer and student liaison, to pursue poor attendance further. Her relentless approach garnered her a well deserved moniker last week - the ‘kindest vigilante security’ - from a parent, delighted with the level of supervision we provide. In terms of punctuality, we have tightened up here too. I was pleased to see Richard, the Head of Science, take more of a role on this - firstly identifying those students who have been late three times in a week, and then holding them to account in a weekly detention. This has clearly worked. Richard himself had to deal with another issue during his lunch on Friday, but that didn’t stop all of those who had been set the sanction turning up and sitting in room 1B on time as expected.

Rule number two requires full effort from students. We never set parameters based around a grade being the expectation - rather, the reckoning is based around the level of effort. If work is set, it must be done. This is the only way for students to progress: through learning derived from the task. This could materialise through success within it: confidence and assurance is built; familiarity with the demands of the challenge are reinforced; the muscle memory of performing well becomes established. Of course, it may not always go well, and the importance of resilience built from moving forward after a setback is arguably more important. What students must commit to whilst at the College is in trying their best. Nothing ventured, nothing gained - the aversion to risk, and judgement on the level of performance has to be eliminated if a student is to become a success. Students know very well the consequences for not adopting this mindset - it requires staying behind on a Monday, Tuesday and/or Friday. James Garside, the Head of GCSE, and Laura Bellerby, the Vice Principal, have been instrumental in making this work. It is essential that the College is a hive of industry - and that this atmosphere becomes infectious. Momentum is vital for the success of all, it brings along many of those who harbour self-doubt.

Rule number three, and arguably the most important part of the code, is based around conduct. We expect the very highest standards of comportment from all students, towards all of their contemporaries and towards staff - no excuses - ever. This, most of all, is the area that one can not allow to slip. This is because of the adverse effect it has on other members of the community. Where a student is absent or late, or perhaps doesn’t try to complete a set task, it is they who suffer. When there is a lapse in conduct, the reach is far wider. A lack of dignity and respect shown towards others within the Ealing Independent College body, whether that happens through, as I’ve had to deal with this week, the lack of a sincere apology for poor behaviour, arguing with staff and doubting or making unacceptable comments towards another student. Ultimately, students will have to answer to me when there are breaches of discipline, though it rarely gets that far, and, usually they approach disciplinary issues with remorse and a level of complicity which indicates personal growth. Students generally appreciate the chance they have been given by enrolling at EIC - they like the environment here and they are keen to make the best of it.

Such a system must be defended - and I really don’t mind the expense of a great deal of my energy in doing this. If my efforts bring success, then the right environment has been created and will be preserved. 

We’ve been reviewing our Admissions process lately - as the College becomes more popular, with the amount of applications we’ve been receiving, then more work is required to ensure that the students who come to the College must truly believe in this philosophy - they must commit themselves to it. If they do, we will support them to grow and develop towards becoming the very best they can be - beyond even their greatest expectations.

Recently, we enjoyed welcoming the Education Director connected with the College and a fellow Headteacher to Ealing in order to conduct our Governance. They asked a selection of students how they felt about EIC. I was delighted to hear it. Highlights included:

  • All students stated that EIC was better than their previous school, 
  • They identified the key reasons as teaching staff quality, relationships being more open, more respect and trust between staff and students, additional time given to support individuals. 
  • They felt they are able to work better due to less behaviour issues and distractions and a strongly established culture of wanting to study and do well encouraged by teachers who really care about them as individuals and go out of their way to support them emotionally as well as academically.
  • Lots of students have had challenges or negative experiences of school before they came to Ealing.They are now able to be ‘their best self at EIC’. 
  • Well being very often referenced by students and examples frequently given.

One remark was especially pleasing from a Year 11 student: ‘EIC is student centred and has students at its heart. Staff here are not just doing a job they are seeing and adapting to our needs so each student can reach their potential.’

Such progress amongst our students, many of them vulnerable, with fragile confidence in need of a high level of nurturing care, is hard won, and can be easily lost. 

They prosper in the environment which pervades here, and, while I am Principal, it will be the ultimate priority to maintain it.

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