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Anglo European School Awards Evening Speech September 2014

The range of talent that comprises succeeding generations of the Anglo Family has inspired us once more.  Parents, friends and staff alike can share in the achievements of our students. This is an important evening in our calendar.

We are a caring profession, indeed, we can only succeed if we care.  Happy students are the best learners.  It is because we care that there is always a concern about those who are not here this evening.  Those who have worked hard but not managed the gold medal, those whose talents don’t feature in our awards this year, those who could have achieved but were distracted by other challenges in their lives.  Tomorrow in school, as with every day, they will all be on our radar, one way or another. 

In recent weeks we have witnessed the joys of our students when they find out their examination results.  We have also had to pick up and support those who have fallen short of their potential or failed to secure the grades they needed to allow them to get where they wanted to go.

Jill and I are increasingly of the view that there is something deeply iniquitous about the results day procedure, particularly the way in which it has become defined not by individual success or failure but by the insatiable appetite of the media for a story.

Allow me to share an increasingly deep-seated concern about GCSE and A-level results days.  The day has a familiar pattern – we always open our doors earlier than expected once the examinations staff have laid out their paperwork, we have already identified those students who we know the press will want to see – the students with a string of top grades, the student who has achieved in adversity.  The reporter comes at the allotted time, usually with a photographer. 

As the morning unfolds we are always impressed with our students – the ‘chosen’ ones are remarkably patient and supportive of us – despite the embarrassment.  As with us they are acutely aware of peers who are not in a position to scream with joy but rather find a corner to cry in.

We are then interviewed by the press and, by and large, they take the data they are given without question.  As academics we are trained to do our research, validate our data, develop our arguments then reach a conclusion .  Our academic training has to be suspended on results days.  We know, in this day and age, we need to go public with whatever data we are presented with on the day despite knowing it will change almost immediately – errors spotted, re-marks needed.  This is compounded by journalists who knowingly print incorrect information and refuse to correct it – a true story!  The published data was in fact favourable to us! This year alone we have significant concerns about the marking of English and Art and….  It defied natural justice to remove speaking and listening from the English assessment AFTER our students had completed the assessment. Coupled with the in-year announcement that only the first entered exam would count, the current year 11 nationally are a group of young people who have every cause to be disenchanted with national policy.  There were certainly more tears this year as students were confronted with lower than expected English grades.

And yet we place so much faith in the exam system, it defines so much of what we do.  Our calendar of 190 pupil days contains, ironically, about 365 deadlines, reporting dates, internal assessment dates of one sort or another. And yet governments continue to meddle as goalposts change – a return to O levels (and yes, we hear they will be called that), grade boundaries changed, terminal exams only, no coursework.

And behind all this is another layer of confused policy – Connexions careers service abandoned and yet, simultaneously, a duty placed on schools to give independent careers advice; the promise of an all-age careers service still to be realised; removal of the requirement to provide work experience – what does this say about the professed desire of our political leaders to have us competing economically  with the likes of Singapore and Shanghai?  The CBI themselves have expressed their regret at the downgrading of speaking and listening skills. Sixth form funding changed in July with effect from September with implications such as the removal of funding for those who failed a course not being able to progress, students not able to start a new course  once they are 18.  This affected probably half a dozen of our students whose life plan was suddenly taken from them.  Natural justice?

The very fact that Academies can choose to ignore whatever policies they wish to also leads to confusion and exacerbates the problem.  No longer can we claim to be part of a truly national education service.  Instead we have a service that is atomised.  The removal of levels and nothing to replace them, an English Baccalaureate qualification but no certificate to acknowledge a students’ achievements, valuable courses with less emphasis on final exams and which are really valued by students  are removed.  All this adds to the chaos that is the current educational policy landscape.

This is the context within which we work and within which students learn.

Thank goodness for the Anglo. Whilst it may not be a good time to be in education generally, Mrs Martin and I hope it is still a good time to be at the Anglo.  We are determined to continue to make sense of the education we provide on Willow Green and ensure it is of the highest quality.

As an Academy we do have some flexibilities (for instance, we continue with work experience and insist on languages, humanities and the arts being studied at Key Stage 4).  We became an Academy to help protect the distinct nature of the school and believe we are well-placed to do that.  We have spent much of the summer designing our new school brochure – here it is.  We may not be PR consultants, graphic designers or creative advisers but the brochure was a privilege to write. We are pleased, if not excited by what we have achieved.  It was an opportunity to enthuse about our school.  An easy task!! We were able to include all the catch phrases and straplines that you have come to associate with our co-headship over the years and which provide a shorthand means of conveying what we are about  -Anglo family, “a motivation to get all of our students to where they want to go, and even a little bit further than they ever wanted to go”, “an education fit for the 21st century”, “we are a good school because we are not complacent”, “happy learners succeed”, “we are an inclusive, secular school which encourages children to explore faith and belief”, “other people with their opinions and differences, might be right”  and, finally, what we provide is “more than the sum of its parts”.  I hope you recognise the Anglo in these words.

It is a special place for those who learn and work in it, a distinctive school according to OfSTED, quirky according to others, a confident school which is (and I quote from the brochure again) “confident in its ambition and passionate about its mission”.  A cosmopolitan school in Ingatestone where we can welcome and celebrate difference and diversity. A school that can resist change when we feel that change does not equal progress.  We change when we consider that that change helps promote our “culture of high academic standards rooted in traditional values and a modern internationalist outlook”  – an aspiration embodied in the philosophy of the International Baccalaureate Organisation which impacts on all who work and learn with us.

We teach teenagers from start to finish. In partnership with their families, we guide them through their adolescent years. For many in the wider population the very words “teenager” conjures up horror stories and causes palpitations. “I don’t know how you do it” is a refrain often heard in conversation between colleagues and sympathetic others . For us in the profession, it is what we do. Our bread and butter with its challenges and its inspirations. We tolerate the politics because we feel we make a genuine difference.

And now, in the words of Andy Pandy (yes I know that dates me), “Time to go home”

David Barrs
On behalf of Mrs Martin (Co-headteacher) and himself