Principal's Blog

November 2017 ‘Commitment to Excellence’

It has been another intense and purposeful few weeks here at Marlborough.  During this second term of the school year, we have been putting a considerable amount of time and effort into not only the everyday life of the school and providing the best lessons and experiences we can for our students, but also investing a significant amount of time into our own internal professional development as teachers and leaders.  As a staff body, we try our best at all times to be reflective and thoughtful, to ensure that we are keeping up-to-date with the latest evidence-based research that exists extensively now in education, and are flexible and confident enough to share outstanding practice and consider ways in which we can improve.

A number of staff have been involved in a school-based research programme that has been looking at increasing levels of students’ engagement and motivation in their learning.  This has been a fascinating process, and as a result, the focus of our recent INSET Day was exploring how we, as teachers, might move our students from an attitude of compliance to engagement.  This is crucial in creating the successful, motivated, autonomous learners we would like them to be in school, as well as preparing them to go into the world of work and/or further study well prepared and with the attributes of intrinsic motivation and perseverance they will need to be successful.  It was a really valuable day and we have all agreed to try various strategies in our classrooms to challenge and support our young people to develop these skills. 

Another aspect of school life we have all been working on is what we are calling our ‘commitment to excellence’.  This phrase comes from our school vision statement: ‘’we are a genuine learning community that is committed to achieving excellence in all we do.  We believe in the capacity and potential of every child.  We strive to find the balance between being ambitious, rigorous, uncompromising and academically outstanding, with making sure our young people are nurtured, cherished and cared for’’. 

The question I asked of our staff was, if this vision is to become a genuine reality, then what are the consequences of this commitment on our everyday priorities?  Again, this stimulated some excellent thought and discussion, but, crucially also provided some practical steps that we can take over the coming weeks and months to push this agenda of excellence in everything we do to the top of our priority list.  It means doing the simple things really well, achieving consistency across our systems and processes, and everyone in school having the highest expectations of themselves and others.   We have a clear plan for how we can achieve this and an unshakeable commitment from all our staff to make this work.  It is an exciting and stimulating time to be the Head here at Marlborough, and I am grateful for the on-going support and trust of the school community.  The days spent working with professional and expert colleagues serves to sharpen our focus and review, together, our ‘commitment to excellence’.

5th October 2017 - A New Year

The start of term has been exciting and a busy time for all of us here in school.  Our Year 7s have made a fantastic start to the school year and are already impressing all of their teachers with their work-rate, commitment and desire to do really well in their lessons.  All the other students have made similarly impressive starts, with lessons being purposeful, engaging and excellent behaviour throughout the school.

The year begins with lots of information evenings for those students and parents starting new courses (GCSEs, Year 11s and our new Sixth Form pupils) culminating in our school Open Evening that took place on 28th September.

It was a fantastic night that really show-cased the strengths of our school.  The traffic problems around Woodstock meant that, at ten to six, we were faced with an MEC that was only a third full and without one of our Year 7 speakers!  However, we held our nerve and Alex finally arrived, at the same time as hundreds of parents and their families.  The student speakers set the tone, speaking confidently and eloquently to a packed MEC about their experiences here at Marlborough.  It was genuinely inspiring.  Their words spoke more eloquently about the school than mine ever could.  I am aware that I am fortunate enough to hear their speeches whilst many of our staff and families are not, so this year we have posted the students’ speeches from Open Evening on our website.  If you get the chance, please read them.

Over the course of the evening I managed to visit nearly all of the school and was absolutely blown away by what I saw.  The commitment of the children, the organisation, the activities, the sheer quality of the work on show was genuinely outstanding.  The site looked amazing as always – no litter, no vandalism, and really well-presented, from the Science Block, to the Dining Hall to the Library.  I was very, very proud.

Of course, the whole idea behind Open Evening is to show our school in the best light possible to ensure that we continue to be extremely popular and over-subscribed.  I felt that we did this and in doing so it really felt like a huge team effort – so well done and thank you to all the ‘Marlborough family’!

21st July 2017 - The end of another school year

…and so we come to the end of another school year. This one seems to have gone particularly quickly as the days, weeks and months are so packed and busy that, before we know where we are, we are looking forward to the summer holidays, reviewing our progress this year and making extensive plans for September. This year at Marlborough has really encapsulated the idea that we are creating a special kind of education here, one that strikes the balance between being academically rigorous and ambitious, and creating well-rounded, empathic and mature young men and women.  We achieve this by providing huge opportunities for personal and social development, as well as focusing relentlessly on how to improve our teaching and learning and make the most of every lesson in school. As a result, student progress has improved across the school this year, and we are confident of some excellent results in the summer.  We have seen some evidence of improvement in other key areas, with our attendance now well above the county and national average, our behaviour recognised as outstanding and the progress of our vulnerable students keeping pace with our non-vulnerable learners. The work towards the NACE Award has meant an increased level of challenge in lessons – and we plan to continue developing our provision for the more able next year. 

Life outside the classroom has also been exciting and purposeful. There are too many events and trips for me to go into detail about, but the highlights of the year have included our music concerts; ‘’Wendy and Peter Pan’’; the Shakespeare Festival and our ‘Summer Cabaret’; our Sports Award Evening; thriving inter-form and superb Sports Day; our extensive trips to Germany, Kilvrough, Yenworthy, Glasbury, Berlin, Cologne, the Somme, the Ski trip and the French trip; our Immersion Days; political debates; Science competitions; World Book Day; Carnegie shadowing; creative and non-fiction writing competitions; the Blenheim Palace Festival of Literature, Film and Music; our Apprenticeship School Award and recruitment fair – the list goes on and on.        

One highlight was our most successful ever Charities Week. We raised a huge amount of money for some amazing charities, including SeeSaw (helping bereaved children cope with their loss); Clic Sargant (supporting the families of children with cancer); The Friends of the Ormerod and ‘Just Like Us’ a national LGBT+ charity that is doing ground-breaking work in schools across the country. These last two are particularly poignant, as we are now an ambassador school for ‘Just Like Us’ and have continued to raise money for the Ormerod through one of our pupils, Leo Burbidge, completing his ‘mega-mile’ last month at Blenheim. 

One other event of note this year was the SIAMs Inspection. I will leave the last word on our school to the Inspection Team:

‘’The school is outstanding at meeting the needs of all learners. Relationships within the school are very good, the staff and pupils are mutually respectful, the modelling of behaviour by adults is very effective. Behaviour in school is exemplary, pupils show the same courtesy to each other as to adults and demonstrate excellent learning behaviours. Pupils appreciate each other as persons of value’’.

Have a lovely break and a restful summer,

Mr A Hanlon 

7th July 2017 - A Remarkable Week

With the fast-paced nature of life in school, it seems that a huge amount has happened in the last couple of weeks. Amongst the highlights of the school year is always the summer production, and this year was no exception. In fact, the performances we witnessed at last week’s ‘’Cabaret’’ was probably the best thing I have seen at school – at any of the schools I have been at. The huge variety of performances and the talent on show was absolutely incredible. The wide range of ages was also remarkable, and, at times, the performances were genuinely moving. The best part of the whole production was knowing that it was, in the main, conceived, choreographed, directed and produced by a group of Year 12 students. The hours, days and weeks of hard work, dedication and effort that they put in – and inspired others to commit to - was a great achievement. I was extremely proud to be part of our school that night.

Another really proud day was at Blenheim Palace on Saturday to witness the amazing Leo Burbidge complete his ‘mega-mile’ to raise money for a new mini-bus for the Ormerod Resource Base here at school. To witness Leo (and his good friend Will) battling away to complete the challenge was another hugely impressive and humbling occasion. The lessons we can all learn from Leo about perseverance, resilience and selflessness were plain to see. He is a remarkable and inspirational young man.

Finally, the rite of passage that is the annual Summer Ball took place this year at Worton Park in Cassington. Once again, our community of young people and staff came together to celebrate their time in school and make some memories they will never forget. As ever, the Sixth Form Team and the Ball Committee did a brilliant job in transforming the venue and our students did us proud on the night. The common theme that links all these events is the idea that school is so much more than a place where you do your lessons, sit your exams and go home. It is a place where you are part of something bigger than yourself, where you learn to be part of a genuine family that cares about each other and looks after each other. It has been a great few days in the life of the school and a reminder of what a special place the Marlborough School is.

8th June 2017 - Talking Politics

In the week before half term, we were all disappointed when the political representatives from the Labour Party, Greens, Liberal Democrats and the Conservative Party withdrew from the scheduled political debate we had planned for the 24th May with Year 10 students and members of the Sixth Form. We are really keen here at Marlborough to engage our young people in the political process, to give them access to the politicians and people who hold power and to hold them to account by engaging in reasoned debate and reflection. 

However, the reason for the cancellation was totally justifiable and understandable.  The terror attack in Manchester, as with the terror attack in the Houses of Parliament and on London Bridge, have caused us all to reflect and sympathise with the innocent people whose lives will be affected and changed forever after such an event. Reading the stories of young people, parents, children, teenagers and friends who lost their lives was just terribly sad.  

It is hard to know what to say to students in these circumstances. However, we encourage staff to talk about the incidents with students and are aware that some of our young people are, understandably, anxious about going to public places and perhaps even slightly nervous when they come to school. Such anxieties are real. To address this, we produce resources that Form Tutors can use with their Tutor Groups that provide facts about potential threats and place these events in their social and political contexts. We do so with extreme sensitivity, whilst stressing to all our students that, despite the best efforts of people who threaten us, we remain – and we are proud of this at the Marlborough School – a tolerant, civilised and harmonious community who are accepting of others and where difference is not simply tolerated, but celebrated.  

To prove this was this case, we have had, this week at Marlborough, a visit from all major party candidates involved in the General Election campaign. Robert Courts of the Conservatives spoke to a small group of Sixth Formers and members of the School Council, whilst the whole of Year 10 took part in a ‘Question Time’-style event with Labour, the Greens and the Lib Dems. Listening to the students ask searching and challenging questions of our political figures was really inspiring and, who knows, one day we may well have one of those Year 10 students who were present come back to visit us in school having been elected as our new local MP – or even as Prime Minister.

5th May 2017 - Sports Award Evening

I had the pleasure of attending our 12th Annual Sports Award Evening last night, which was held for the first time in the MEC. Our previous Awards ceremonies had been held at a Golf Club, and so I was strongly concerned that, in holding it at school, it might lose some of its ‘shine’. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Huge credit has to go to the whole team who did an amazing job on transforming the MEC into a genuinely impressive corporate venue. The food was really well received and thanks again must go to the indefatigable MSA who ran a friendly and well-stocked bar. Many parents commented to me that this was the best evening that they had been to so far.

The highlights, of course, were the awards themselves. The range of students nominated was fantastic, and we celebrated all that is good about the school: sporting excellence, where our young people perform at county, national and international level; leadership, where sport is used to develop confidence and maturity in a variety of contexts; and effort, commitment and dedication, celebrating and rewarding those young people who go out of their way to make a contribution to their team and community. It was truly inspiring. 

All of these characteristics and qualities were emphasised and personified by our guest speaker Gee Purdy (google her to see her rowing crew’s amazing video). She was a tremendous advocate for female achievement and, as a local (ish) girl who went to a nearby state school, she made it clear to our students that, in her words, ‘’there are no limits to what you can do and what you can achieve’’. At a time when schools are under pressure to narrow their curriculum and squeeze spending on sports facilities and physical education, I was proud of the way we here at Marlborough continue to be highly committed to this aspect of a young person’s  education. It is crucial, and we have students for whom it is the most important part of their lives.  Here at Marlborough, it is our job to find, nurture and develop young peoples’ talent, whatever they may be.

I was left at the end of the evening with a real sense of pride and felt that the whole event was an assertion of what makes our school special, particularly the attitudes our young people display – the tenacity that has made them successful in sport, and will do so in life: ‘’It is hard to beat someone who never gives up.’’

6th April 2017 - Destinations and Apprenticeships

A couple of weeks ago now I attended the inaugural Oxfordshire Apprenticeship Awards Evening which was held here at school in the MEC. Last Wednesday night, along with 300 others including over 100 students from The Marlborough, I was also lucky enough to visit the Apprenticeship Fair which we also hosted here at school. The evening was an enormous ‘eye-opener’ on a number of different levels. Firstly, it was incredible to see the MEC transformed into a genuinely impressive corporate venue and secondly, it was interesting to see the various companies and sponsors attending the event, as clearly there is a massive investment from local, national and international business in ensuring Apprenticeships are successful and continue to flourish in Oxfordshire. 

At the awards ceremony, it was revealing that the prizes that were presented to the young people reflected not necessarily their academic achievement, but the skills they have demonstrated in the role of an Apprentice – perseverance; flexibility; commitment; independence; and thinking creatively.  It is absolutely clear that these are the skills that employers are looking for – and so, therefore, the skills we need to be developing in our own young people.

The final thing that struck me was the confidence and self-possession shown by the young people who were nominated and achieving their awards. They were genuinely inspirational, and the point was made more than once that there are many different routes for young people to take in order to be successful.

We were recognised as being a ‘highly commended’ school for our work in promoting and valuing high-quality Apprenticeship places. As a school, we are justifiably proud of our success at getting our students to the most appropriate destinations– be it college, employment, Sixth Form, university (with 86% achieving their first or second choice destination last year, and six students in the last two years going to Oxbridge) and, increasingly, high quality apprenticeships at 16 and 18. We will continue to promote every possible opportunity we can, to be at the forefront of apprenticeship provision and be relentless in ensuring all of our students get the help and support they need to flourish in their next stage of life.

17th March 2017 - Developing Great Teachers

I would like to thank parents, carers, grandparents, friends, neighbours and any other adults who were pressed into service as a result of the whole school INSET Day on Wednesday of this week.  INSET is an educational acronym that stands for ‘In-Service Training’ and it is an opportunity for the teachers in the school to spend some time working collectively as a group of professionals on the agreed priorities of the School Development Plan.  On Wednesday, we were able to use this incredibly valuable time to explore together new and innovative ways of encouraging reflection and debate in our lessons; to update all staff on our progress towards achieving the NACE Challenge Award (another acronym, NACE is the National Association for Able Children in Education and is an important part of our work to improve provision for our more able students as well as provide appropriate challenge for all our pupils); to focus on the latest developments to do with safeguarding and paramount importance of keeping all of our children safe, at all times; and examining the Ofsted framework and our current self-evaluation process, so that, as a school, we are thoroughly and properly prepared for when we are next inspected. 

Having time together as teachers to share good practice, discuss key issues and do some practical work aimed at improving all our teachers is absolutely vital and enables me, as the Principal, to ensure that we are all operating to the same level and that our systems, processes and expectations are really clear.  Of course we have our staff meetings and other meetings in school that happen on a weekly, bi-weekly and termly basis, but that block of time together is vital in moving our school forwards by identifying excellent practice and using that practice so that it becomes common practice.  We are grateful for your forbearance, and I want you to be reassured that we make the best use of any time we have been given to make the experience for your sons and daughters here at school even more safe, purposeful and challenging.

10th March 2017 - SIAMs – Good With Outstanding!

I am delighted to be able to share with you the final report and verdict of the SIAMs (Statutory Inspection of Anglican and Methodist Schools – the Church’s version of Ofsted) Inspection which took place earlier this year.  The overall judgment is that ‘’the distinctiveness and effectiveness of the Marlborough school as a Church of England School are good’’, with a secondary judgement that ‘’the school is outstanding at meeting the needs of all learners’’.  This is great news for us as a community and great credit has to go to all the staff, pupils, parents and Governors who were involved in the process itself.  Of course, the actual inspection is simply a ‘snapshot’ of what we do, and the real work that was so positively recognised by this Inspection has been going on for a long time now and it is most pleasing that the things that have been recognised as outstanding are the things that we have been really focussing on over the past two years: the culture and ethos of the school; the relevant and living values; the clear vision that informs how we treat each other on a daily basis; the expectation of excellent behaviour and high aspirations; and the caring, inclusive and outstanding culture we have here that means that all people are valued and respected.

What is also particularly pleasing about the report is that it reflects our guiding principle of putting the students and their needs at the heart of the school.  The culture they praise is not simply one that cares for each other, but one that is now increasingly ambitious and purposeful.  One key section of the report states that ‘’the pupils are excellent ambassadors for the school, demonstrating its values consistently through their courtesy and eagerness to learn’’.  It talks of a ‘’team’’ of staff working ‘’relentlessly’’ to ensure the best outcomes and progress for our pupils, especially the most vulnerable: ‘’strategies for Pupil Premium pupils, known as Marlborough Scholarship Students, are helping these pupils to flourish.  The vision and ethos has helped to create resilient and self-aware pupils with strong aspirations both for themselves and for their peers’’.  The report mentions lots of other strengths of the school:  the opportunities available to all students, particularly through Electives; our Whole School Assembly; our opportunities for prayer and reflection; the dramatic and ‘’amazing’’ development of RE in school which now makes an ‘’outstanding contribution’’ to our community; improving attendance; working with Governors; and the place of the Ormerod Resource Base at the heart of our school.

You are now able to read the report yourselves on our website.  For us as a school, I feel that we have, in some ways, broken a ‘glass ceiling’.  I have made no secret of the fact that I want our school to be outstanding – and I have meant that in every way possible, not just in ‘Ofsted’ or ‘SIAMs’ terms.  The report recognises that we are on a journey, but that the progress we have made to get to this point is at the ‘top end’ of good and in some crucial areas, genuinely outstanding.  And I believe we have achieved this by creating a school where people – all people in the community – are listened to, valued and trusted.  This is an important report, not just in itself, but in the affirmation it gives to the work we are all doing, parents included, to create the right environment for our young people to flourish.  They are proud to be part of our school, and you can be proud too.