October 2019

By 3rd October 2019 Headteacher's Blog

I have now managed to pause for breath after a very busy start to the term, which has not gone quite to plan; I unfortunately fell off my bike and broke my arm – nothing too serious, but slightly inconvenient.  We have also experienced delay on the £1.7m refurbishment of the Romero Block, but I am sure the results will be worth waiting for.

Thank you to all parents who have commented on the exam results.  We are all extremely proud of what has been achieved this year.

With three weeks until half term, dare I say it, the joy and hope of the Christmas season is already a faint light on the horizon.  I was travelling back through Newport on the Isle of Wight on Tuesday and the lights were on!  I sincerely hope this was just a test.  For all students, but particularly those in Year 11 and Year 13, the pressure is already beginning to build as they work towards their public exams in June 2020 – it will come around soon enough.

Earlier this term, we had our Open Evening for prospective parents into Year 7 2020. A parent, who was attempting to gauge whether Oaklands was the right school, asked me, “What do you believe is really important about a good school?  Please Mr Quinn, do not say great exam results”.  This is a regular line of enquiry from discerning parents.  The question hinted at the disconnect between the aspects of education that have to be measured, often reported in performance tables, and what parents want from a school.

Exams are very important, good passes in challenging qualifications open doors to higher study and great employment opportunities – at Oaklands we have always backed rigorous qualifications with the vast majority of students having access to EBacc qualifications and RE, long before the government pursued this idea. We plan to push this further and aim for 75% to complete EBacc qualifications, including a modern foreign language. However, for some students this is not an appropriate diet.  We are a comprehensive school, youngsters come to us with complex needs and sometimes these develop further over the adolescent years, so we look for alternative curriculum models or a hybrid solution between us and another school or college. No-one wants to set a youngster up to fail, so we must not lose sight of our aim of ensuring youngsters have a suite of qualifications that lead to opportunities that will engage them post-16, even if it is at the expense of a notch or two on league tables.

I am proud that we have a curriculum offer that balances the classroom with extra curricula opportunities. Our Oaklands News provides a taste of these.

Without balance, there is danger of damaging the very thing that schools are supposed to provide – a high quality broad-based education that prepares young people for life.  When I speak to students and parents of Year 6 students they often say, “all they have done this year is prepare for the SATs”.  Many commentators talk about a ‘pressure cooker exams environment’ which can start in Key Stage 2. The number of students finding it difficult to cope with exceptional levels of stress around exam time appears to increase every year.  As a parent and teacher I have to be guarded not to add to this at home.

For youngsters, at the time of the qualification whether GCSE or A Level, the significance of the examination appears monumental. The reality is that qualifications are just a part of what defines us as human beings and should never be anything more. Many youngsters go on to lead fulfilling lives in careers and jobs that have nothing to do with their GCSE, A Level or even degree qualifications.  I was speaking with a past student last week, he owns a company that specialises in security risk management. His education at Oaklands led to a History degree, unrelated to the business of his company. This suggests that the process of education, the journey through school, the opportunities we take, how we develop as a result of studying certain subjects is as important as the subject itself.

If I think back over my career both in and out of education, the best people I have worked with or employed have been defined by their personality, emotional intelligence, moral compass, religious conviction, resilience, ability to form positive relationships and work effectively within teams.  None of these attributes are easily examined by a qualification.  These attributes formed the basis of my answer to the discerning parent during Open Evening.

Matthew Quinn