This weekend my oldest son Harry went to University to begin his course in music, specialising in piano. It was a BIG weekend for the family. There were mixed emotions – a great sense of the start of a new adventure for an 18 year old and a moment in time, but of course tinged with sadness for Mum and Dad as son number 1 moves away from home for the first time. I am now sat typing in his empty room, missing him already!
It has made me reflect on what we want for our children and what I want as a Principal for all of our students at Gloucester Academy. University is not the route for every child, but it should be a possible, realistic and affordable decision for those that want it. Part of my job is to ensure that the quality of teaching and the learning environment in GA is so strong that any child who wants to explore what university might be like can do so. I want us to create such an aspirational atmosphere that all of our children and young people will succeed in their journey, whatever that journey may be. More of our young people should go to University and this is one of my ambitions for GA.
When I arrived in July for the last few days of the summer term I did a lot of listening. I listened to many students and parents and staff and governors so that I could reflect on what needed to be our priorities. Over the first four weeks since I started at GA we have introduced a number of new systems which are a response to this ‘listening’. They also grow out of our VALUES and our CORE PURPOSE, which will form a significant part of our thinking and growth this year. We are part of the strongly values-based White Horse Federation with clear principles about the way that we work together and look after each other.
OUR CORE PURPOSE: “We are a dynamic school community, engaged with Gloucester, where a commitment to excellence in teaching, learning and personalised support inspires students to thrive at school and in the world”
VALUE 1: BELONG
- Every member of our school community – student and staff – matters
- Everything comes out of relationship so getting our relationships right is important
- Everyone works to ensure all students and all staff have a real sense of belonging to the school community
Part of being in a family means being listened to. When Matt Discombe from The Gloucester Citizen came into school to meet me last week it was crucial for me that he meet our brilliant students because they are best placed to describe what is changing at GA, not me. Students need to be at the heart of what we do.
Our new House system will ensure that we are all important and feel part of a family. The House system will bring a togetherness, and allow younger children to feel part of academy life much more quickly. The new restore meetings at the end of the day mean that when things go wrong, we have a structured and calm process to help them put things right. This means that we get quickly back into our learning and we learn about how to restore problems in life as they crop up.
VALUE 2: BELIEVE
- We learn to believe in ourselves and in one another, in who we are, in what we do; in our work, rest and leisure; in serving the world
- We grow in awareness of ourselves, others, the school and local community, the UK and the world
- We see feedback as our friend, learning how to give and receive positive and constructive feedback so that we grow
Believing that I can respond to and learn from feedback is part of the journey to being a mature adult. We are intent on developing this capacity in each of our learners: students and staff. Feedback is the watchword of the English rugby team as they pour over their laptops and analyse their own performances to pinpoint what needs fine-tuning. Feedback is what my son uses to improve his own piano performances, when things need changing. Feedback is good.
VALUE 3: STRIVE
- Nothing worth having comes easily so we accept the need to work hard to progress to achieve our full potential
- We work with the personalised support on offer at the school
- We commit to work excellently as an independent learner, in our work with students and with staff
- We strive to produce our best work at all times in and outside the classroom, in every area of school life, and in engaging with the local community and with the world
This value is about having a growth mindset: “in the growth mindset you don’t feel the need to convince yourself and others that you have a royal flush when secretly you’re worried that it’s a pair of tens. The hand you are dealt with is just the starting point …although people may differ in every which way – in their initial talents and apti-tudes, interests or temperaments, everyone can change and grow through the application and experience.” Carol Dweck
Our new behaviour points system: Part of the feedback that I heard from students in July was that they wanted a really clear system of rewards and they wanted behaviour to be better so that there were no disruptions to learning. In our new system of scoring behaviour for learning this achieves both. All students are scored for their learning behaviour at the end of each lesson, from 1 – Outstanding to 4 – Moved to partner class. At the end of each day students reflect on their grades transparently with their tutor.
I have received hugely positive feedback from students and staff that already it has made a significant shift in the ethos in the academy. Nothing is achieved without hard work, and when students STRIVE within a strong, well-understood behaviour system, then the sky is the limit.
VALUE 4: ACHIEVE
- With a sense of belonging, a belief in ourselves and in what we are doing, with confidence in others, and striving for excellence, we achieve our full potential at school and in life
- We take responsibility for ourselves, our progress and our achievements, working alone, with other students and staff to achieve all we are capable of
- We persevere and never give up
It is early days, but we will explore these values with students in our house discussions, they will be celebrated on the new website, and they will help us to remember what is important and fundamental for young people when the winds of educational change blow (as they will).
What do I watch? How can you help? I spend a great deal of time watching learning in lessons. I sit with students in class and look closely at the quality of their books and their folders. I take photos of great books, great learning and well-presented books and I share this mastery with other teachers and students. After all sometimes the best learning is to see what great looks like. I am really interested in each student’s range of book/folder/finished artwork, and I want us as parents, teachers and governors to work with our children and students on this. Let’s praise them and challenge them with what that quality looks like, and ask where their finest work is and where they need to redouble their efforts. Let’s help them respond to teachers’ feedback to support their learning journey. In school we will be using tutor time and mentoring time to create a real focus around the mastery of books. Our primary schools are often really strong in this area. We need to be more like them. If we get this right, then this will mean a long-term improvement in results for our students: in other words, our students will ACHIEVE!
A massive welcome to our fabulous new Year 7s who have made a flying start in New Basics: At the end of 7 years of education with us we want our new Yr7 learners to emerge inquisitive and resilient and with a craftsman-like approach to high quality work. Children who will have a growth mindset and an inherent self-belief that making mistakes is the path to progress. Who will BELONG with us at Gloucester Academy and feel part of the family. Who will BELIEVE in themselves and their capacity for growth, and who will not be easily defeated. Who will STRIVE to become excellent in all they do and who, through all of this, will ACHIEVE. It is an honour and a privilege to have them with us in the fold.