End of Term Newsletter

There is a real sense of excitement around our school this December, and it’s not just because Christmas is coming! The dawn of any academic year heralds renewal but reviewing this term, I can see that exceptional progress has been made. For 2011-12, we welcomed new pupils at the main entry points into Nursery, Reception, Year 7 and Sixth Form, and new staff to teach and lead. It is what this new crop is achieving that sets the backdrop for this newsletter. On the water our sailors have notched up the position as best sailing school in the country, for example above Sevenoaks and Millfield in the latest national competition. You can see some highlights of their first national sailing season here – : http://goo.gl/VTXYg

Our U12 boys’ rugby squad were unbeaten all term, coming back from the recent Berkshire Rugby Festival winners overall of the 46 teams competing. Going one better, our senior girls’ hockey team won the indoor county championship (beating Wellington College in the process) and went on represent Berkshire in the southern regional stage in which they came 4th, holding their own against schools with vastly superior numbers of girls to choose from. The Young Enterprise team is building its new business case with the help of Cisco’s mentors, while Year 13 pupils are being invited to interview and receiving offers from Universities. We deliver a winning balance of size and engagement – small enough as a school so that everyone gets a chance and big enough to compete with the best in the country! You can see further evidence of this approach in the enclosed Achievements and Scribblings magazines which chronicle the life, work and times of our particular community in all its guises, from Nursery to Sixth Form. What I hope we exemplify best within is just how much your sons and daughters achieve in the round, with every aspect of their lives here filled with opportunities to succeed. We want our pupils to be fundamentally happy at school, to grow in self-worth, to achieve across the broad sweep of school life, and in so doing become the resilient men and women set to survive and prosper in an uncertain world.

I hope it is a “given” that we are a school for all abilities. So we should be, for those who join at 3 years of age have their whole futures ahead of them – we must hold open every possible door to them so that, in every sense, they can explore whilst within our bounds. We are a school of high Expectation, grounded in reality in terms of age and circumstance: our purpose is to nurture high Aspiration amongst our young. Aspirations are what drive boys and girls to be what they will become. As teachers, it is our duty to provide the type of school environment which will enthuse students to do more, to be more and to reach beyond their imagination! As 2012 arrives, it’s time to share with you our next major development plan. As I do so for the next 4 years, it is with some humility! It’s difficult to see ahead quite as clearly as one wants; back in 2008, I had little foresight of the coming chaos in the financial markets, in business and in society at large, and no view at all of the sweeping changes that a Coalition Government would bring to Education. Clearly far more devastating for our families has been the continued turmoil in the global economy, and for the time being there seems little to cheer on that front, though Hope springs eternal, so please read on! Because we have indeed done well despite that bleak backdrop to meet the 8 targets set in 2008.

The first target was to extend what we teach and learn well beyond the confines of the National Curriculum. What happens in the classroom needs to be around a rich and diverse provision; few junior schools have a curriculum as broad as ours so well supported by specialist staff teaching with an obvious love for what they do. There is an alarming gulf growing between the education experienced by our own pupils in these formative years and those in state primary schools. It is the main reason for new junior pupils to join, and it is the main reason why pupils should stay on with us into the secondary years. During the Key Stage 3 years our pupils enjoy a huge diversity of visits and experiences providing brilliant handson learning. Most of the local secondary schools do none of this, and it shows. As a school for all abilities, we are not in the race to be the best just for the clever. The Department for Education’s own research recently published shows that all the plans to fast track more able pupils in the state sector to take GCSEs earlier and accelerate their learning has had precisely the opposite effect – lower achievement, more resits and increased pupil disengagement from the very subjects such as Maths and English in which the Government expects success. But there’s something even more worrying about the state sector’s curriculum changes over recent years, and that is that with such a shortening of the curriculum, the inevitable consequence is ‘teaching to the test’ and head examiners ‘cheating’. Compare and contrast that with our delivery of a broad curriculum supported by an appropriate artistic, sporting and extra curricular provision, the whole evidenced by our successes this term. You can see some great slides from our recent Netball tour to Malta here – http://goo.gl/Cw7Uv.

Our second main target was to refurbish our school environment, and we have made notable steps on all three sites. Yes, we have more to do but the changes already wrought have significantly improved provision across all age groups. Building developments for 2012 include the renewal of the Ridgeway swimming pool, with plans being submitted to the RBWM panel as I write. We start using our new playing fields at Taplow soon, a useful and important addition to our facilities for field games. You can see a slide show of our various developments here: http://goo.gl/nC80M

We live in a digital age, and it has remained important that we use those tools to enhance learning in many and diverse ways. We are well-resourced in this area and the development of our Google ‘Claires Court Hub’ has ensured that our pupils have access to anytime, anywhere tools for learning, and a service that can only grow and keep us at the forefront of digital engagement in the 21st century. Expect us to manage this roll-out carefully though, because these are new skills to lie alongside the old, not to replace them. Reading, writing, drawing, debating, questioning and working hard and with gusto is how we already nurture talent beyond the imagination – that skill-set remains an absolute requirement. But what these tools allow us to do as never before is to collaborate across time and place, to enjoy the excitement of creating with others wherever they are in the world, and to recognise it is the ability to be flexible and adaptable learners that are now the prime requirements for successful employment.

Our fourth aim was to engage more closely with our town and surrounding area. Our 3for3 charity work has and will retain close links with those in our community who are challenged, who don’t have our benefits of background and success, or for whom terminal illness blights their future. Our sponsorship of Art on the Street has assisted in the rejuvenation of the wider Arts community and brought the work of our own young artists onto the High Street. Take a look here at our workshop in operation: – http://goo.gl/wJCdm. The David Course Challenge has brought a new major sporting event to the Schools’ Rugby calendar; indeed whatever the sport you’ll find us working hand in glove with our local clubs and county associations. Outdoor education and the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme are embedded well now for both boys and girls, providing further stretch and challenge. Our own Holiday Club offers not just care and activity for children outside of term-time, but excellent employment experience for the young graduates of our sports leaders and child care programmes. The other 4 targets – to promote further Staff professional development, greater PTA Liaison, maintenance of outstanding Pastoral Care, and an enhancement of pupil discipline and attitude to learning – are not so measurable. In these, we have delivered really well and they will remain core to our future development.

See my next Blog on how all this is moving forwards into our next School Development plan.

About jameswilding

Academic Principal Claires Court Schools Long term member & advocate of the Independent Schools Association
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