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Parents Information Evening

Posted: 16th September 2015

Parents Information Evening

Thank you to all of the parents that were able to attend our first significant event of the year - it is clear from your feedback that many of you found this extremely useful and from our perspective it was wonderful to see many familiar faces, as well as have an opportunity to meet those that are new. For those of you that were unable to attend, you will be able to read about the main themes from my ramblings of the evening here - please do feel free to contact your child’s form tutor for any practical details or questions you may have about the year ahead!

 

‘Welcome to the new academic year! The purpose of the evening is very much to start the new academic year by coming together as a staff and parent body, for you to meet the team of excellent people that will be educating your children and to hear a little bit from myself and some of my colleagues about the year ahead.

Before that, however, I just want to step back in time a little. Many of you will know that Sarah and I spent most of the summer covered in paint and moving boxes around, and during the refurbishment work at the school I was quite excited to uncover a host of delightful treasures! I wonder if you remember the original blackjack and Fruit Salad sweets? Well, quite a few of these aged and fading bits of paper were delicately extracted from behind radiators and floorboards during the summer works. A named wooden ruler from the 1960’s, a plastic name tag from a pupil at the school in the 70’s … all hidden away in nooks and crannies from when the rooms were used as dormitories.

Being an avid history teacher, I piled my treasure up neatly in the corner of the room and looked at it for inspiration for my first assembly as Headmaster. The theme came to me in a flash … during periods of renewal and change we must not lose sight of that which has gone before, building on fine traditions as we look to the future. How was that for preparation … August was barely started, I hadn’t even moved house and I had already planned my first assembly!

Unfortunately it appears that history loving headmasters and busy, bustling builders do not always quite share the same perspective. What was valued treasure to me was clearly skip fodder for them and with a few days to go until the start of term I am sad to report that my artefacts were lost forever and my assembly was in tatters. So much for forward planning!

The sentiment, however, remains at the start of this new academic year as the school is faces a period of transition and change. You will hear a little this evening about some of that but it is vitally important that as we innovate and move forward, we keep one foot firmly rooted in a successful past and a fine tradition. You may recall the metaphor of the Skippers bus from Prizegiving in July? Well, the bus may have a new driver, but he always keeps a close eye on his mirrors!

Moving rapidly back to the present, during our staff meetings we spent time identifying the core values that make Skippers such a special school. The main themes that came through focused upon the school’s family feel, the attention to the individual and the breadth of opportunity at the school. I wonder which of these resonate with you? One of the areas in which our rather modest but excellent teachers were perhaps selling themselves a little short during this exercise was in our academic achievements. The facts from our robust assessment systems are clear: in general the children at Skippers consistently perform above national and local averages at every developmental stage. This doesn’t happen by accident and is not the automatic, given outcome from smaller class sizes. So for me, I would add to this list of typically selfless core values the qualities of excellent teaching and strong academic progress at the school.

The significant point that I wish to make, however, is that we as a staff are quite clear on what the core ethos of the school is … this hasn’t changed much since the days of J.R.Ward and will remain at the heart of what we do in the years to come, even during a period of innovation and change.

I am sure that in your own line of work and business you recognise the importance of people. This is especially true of schools which is basically the business of little people … if you strip away all the facilities and resources you can still run a pretty great school if you have great teachers. In his book ‘From Good to Great’ Jim Collins emphasises this point - he argues that the best organisations worry about ‘who’ first, and then ‘what’. The best organisations not only go talent spotting, they go attitude spotting. This is something that I believe in very strongly and it is at the heart of developments both here at the school and in the wider Bellevue group.

You may have picked up from the press that there is a real recruitment crisis in education, made tougher by an improving economy. Many schools genuinely struggle to recruit high quality staff. It is testament to this school that we have made some excellent appointments in key shortage areas in the recent past and we continue to attract a good number of high calibre applications for advertised posts. There have been some very exciting additions to the strong team already in place; I strongly suspect that you may see further additions to the team in the time ahead.

And of course once staff join Skippers this is only the beginning of the journey. Professional development, in-service training and innovation are hugely important. Miss Hemsley and Mrs Box have this year started an Emerging Leaders Programme being piloted by Bellevue, giving up significant parts of their holiday to develop their expertise. Jackie Parker has started a teaching degree; Anabelle Bellingham is training as a specialist in dyslexia support.  In fact we are very lucky to have an unusually high level of degree educated TAs at the school. Numerous staff will attend training courses during the year which greatly enhances the learning of the children and the capacity of the school.

One of my key priorities this year is establishing a clearly defined middle management structure and a culture of distributed leadership. Multiple layers of pastoral care ensure that children do not ‘slip through the net’ - the school has always taken pride in its care of the children but we should not be complacent - it is the starting point of all that we do.

With that in mind, without doubt the most important person in the school for your children and for you is your child’s form tutor. First port of call for all matters regarding your children. Another group of important people are our newly appointed pastoral co-ordinators who maintain an oversight of the children in their section of the school and provide an additional layer of support and expertise for the staff and for you.

Our pastoral co-ordinators are:

EYFS - Mrs Pincott

Years 1 to 3 - Mrs Murphy

Years 4 to 6 - Miss Alexander

Years 7 and 8 - Mrs Alsop

A number of developments and innovations are already taking place at the school, some very much in the public eye and some less so. The EYFS have introduced national Baseline Assessment and Online Learning Journals; indeed the whole school is about to embark upon a new assessment framework after the end of National Curriculum levels. We are introducing the opportunity for children to take the Trinity Arts Award and have launched an exciting new Musical Theatre club. The Library Learning Centre is up and running, replete with our new Chromebooks. A new Management Information System is to be launched this year along with a shift to Google Drive. Outdoor learning initiatives will continue and the Challenge Award for Years 6 to 8 will start this year. Add to that a new mountain biking activity, fencing, Spanish and Mini-Bridge and there is a great deal to be excited about.

Longer term developments remain in focus: the phased upgrading of the swimming pool and new areas for Creative Arts and Science remain part of the plan.

To close this part of the evening I would like to re-iterate the point that I made at the beginning: that our core values and ethos remain the same as we innovate,  develop and look to the future.

It is important to  emphasise that the children that leave here at 13 are highly sought after by the Senior Schools in the area. I like to think that I am genuinely popular with the Heads and Admissions departments of Bede’s, Eastbourne, Hurstpierpoint, Mayfield, Claremont, Brighton and Tonbridge - I receive more phone calls and emails from them than from my own friends and family! I know deep down, however, that it isn’t really me that they are after - it is your wonderful children. Skippers pupils do very well indeed and leave the school educated in the true meaning of the word as understood by Plato centuries ago: well-rounded, moral, community-minded young adults with a genuine desire to succeed. That is in no small part because there is a great team of people working with your children - trust them, and do engage with them over the year to come.’

Mark Hammond.

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