December 2019: And so this is Christmas…
The build up to Christmas certainly starts early when you are part of a school community. This year, the Christmas preparations have been exceptional – we start with our Christmas Lunch for the senior citizens of the local community, which is always a highlight of the year for me. Spread over two days, it is amazing to have such a range of people come into school to enjoy a great meal, happy times with friends and meet our young people, who are always such positive ambassadors for the younger generation. Talking with some of the original pupils who attended Marlborough when it first opened 80 years ago, you get a real sense of the important part this school has played in generations of families’ lives.
Following this, we had the Christmas Carol Service at St Mary Magdalene Church. It was such a privilege to join in with our fantastic and ever-growing choir and musicians in what is undoubtedly a beautiful setting. It was a reflective and moving occasion. We then also celebrated a more eclectic range of musical performances in our Christmas concert in school, which was hugely enjoyed by all who attended. Along with Christmas dinner for all the staff, two ‘Christmas dinner days’ for the students and our special Christmas Whole School Assembly, it certainly does get you in the mood for the up-coming celebrations!
The festive mood was further enhanced by the sight of staff and Sixth Form pupils all dressed in their finery for ‘Christmas Jumper Day’. Although a colourful sight, the cause behind this day is the work being done by Save the Children UK. It is a terrible fact that more than 2 million families with children under-5 live in poverty in our country – one of the richest in the world. Child poverty is rising at unprecedented levels, with 400,000 more children living in poverty-stricken homes since 2010. The work that Save the Children UK does in these communities is amazing and it is good to remember those less fortunate than ourselves at this time of year. This builds on the work that takes place every year in school as we raise money for our chosen charities. The impact of our actions was made clear to me recently when I received a message from the CEO of the World Bicycle Trust that said that because of the money we raised here, in Woodstock, England, 70 young women in Malawi and the Philippines can access full-time education. What we do changes peoples’ lives forever. It really matters.
This is what the Marlborough family is all about – recognising that Christmas is not just about the celebrations, the presents, the lovely meals – but about helping those less fortunate than ourselves, responding to others in crisis with genuine empathy and taking practical action that makes a difference.
October 2019: Healthy in mind and body
Last week, a large number of staff and Sixth Formers wore something yellow to school as part of the Young Minds ‘Hello Yellow’ campaign on World Mental Health Day. The aim of the day was to raise awareness of the need to address mental health amongst our young people and to reassure anyone struggling with this issue that they are not alone in experiencing difficulties. I was delighted to see so many people taking part, as promoting emotional resilience and good mental health has become increasingly important for us as a school over the past couple of years. We have really invested in a number of important initiatives and made sure we are providing sufficient and effective provision which meets the needs of our pupils.
Our actions have been prompted by the growing demands of the modern world: social media; exam stress; body image; and all the various ways in which young people feel under pressure today is a real and urgent concern for all of us who work in schools. We spend significant amounts of time and energy making sure that all our young people are cared for and nurtured, through the strength of our pastoral system with tutors and Heads of Years, but also through our amazing additional support staff. Our Higher Level Teaching Assistants, Student Services provision, our new Pastoral Centre and our extensive team of specialist staff, including our Pastoral Support Worker, Attendance Officer, School Nurse (who works full-time in our school) and our fantastic and invaluable school counsellor. We try to be on alert at all times for signs of those struggling with mental health issues and have robust systems and processes in place to help support those who need it.
However, we are working hard not to just be reactive when problems occur, but to teach habits and behaviours that promote good mental health, and build up our young peoples’ emotional resilience. The school has played an important role in Oxford University’s Myriad Project (My Resilience in Adolescence), a global project in conjunction with the University of Exeter, the University of Cambridge and UCL. We now make sure all our young people are trained in Mindfulness practices and have coping strategies when they find themselves in particularly challenging situations. We have seen the impact of this work already happening in school - for example when pupils are able to centre themselves before examinations, self-calm before a speech or presentation, or rationalise and relax about deadlines and work load before it becomes too much. Critically, we always provide someone they can talk to, someone who will offer unconditional and non-judgmental support to help them cope with whatever life (and school) throws at them.
Of course, it is not just our pupils who need to ensure they are looking after their mental health. As a school we promote the well-being of our staff as a crucial part of how we have built and maintained a successful community – one where we are able to discuss issues that arise in open and supportive ways – and where we live our values of respect, equality and community. We have a culture of staff well-being here at school we call ‘The Marlborough Way’ and this encapsulates all we do in both small and significant ways, from weekly staff tea, to free yoga sessions and ‘nurture weeks’, from Secret Santa to staff social events (nearly 100 of us took part in our annual summer boat trip on the Thames!) to how we organise our meetings’ schedule and allow our employees to work flexibly and maintain a healthy balance between work and home.
These issues are ones we are deeply committed to. The importance of being connected, of being part of something – a genuine ‘Marlborough family’ – is crucial to our sense of self-worth and happiness. We have to make sure we look after ourselves; and each other.
July 2019: Planning for the future
I have spent some time over the last week reviewing our School Improvement Plan (SIP) for this year and also in a series of meetings with both Middle and Senior Leaders. It has been reassuring to speak to colleagues as it enables me to have honest, professional conversations about what things we think have gone well, what things we still need to work on, and what things we will stop doing next year. As ever, I am keen for there to be a strong sense of continuity between what were our priorities for this year, and what our priorities should be next year.
In fact, when I was reviewing my old folders of School Improvement Plans from 2014 onwards, it is interesting to see how our priorities have shifted and developed over the last five years. I deliberately haven’t said ‘changed’, as our key priorities have remained reasonably consistent over time. The biggest and most immediately noticeable change in the plans completed in previous years and the one we are drafting for 2019-20, is the number of priorities has been significantly reduced. Whereas old School Improvement Plans were massive, narrative-driven, data-rich, action-heavy multi-page doorstops, the latest iterations are much more focused, more- stream-lined and more concerned with making sure we are all doing things that will actually make a difference.
It is tempting, when doing any plan, just to write down everything that you might want to do – but this seems meaningless as the key actions are lost in the over-whelming detail and sheer volume of things to do – most of which will happen anyway. The key to successful planning is to always bear in mind the old adage to ‘keep the main thing the main thing’. For us, this means a clear and unrelenting focus of the classroom experience of all our pupils – from their behaviour for learning; their planned and taught curriculum; and how they are challenged and supported in lessons.
We are always acutely aware that in lots of circumstances and in other schools, there is a tendency to abandon priorities after a year, in order to introduce some new ideas or the latest initiative. We are really careful not to do this at Marlborough. Any action we take will be based on the evidence from our own school that we have – which is why we will continue with our ‘commitment to excellence’ in terms of in-class behaviour, and behaviour at break and lunch-time. To create an outstanding culture takes time, effort and energy – to this end, we will also be continuing to focus on our Sixth Form provision next year. We have had a brilliant year since September with both Year 12 and 13, but the work is not complete and the culture not entirely embedded. We will be relentless in ensuring this happens.
As with every year, I will present the draft priorities to all our teachers towards the end of the academic year in July. Using their feedback, I will finalise the plans over the summer ready to present to all staff at our first INSET Day back in September! Looking forward to it already…
June 2019: Vision re-examined
Earlier this week, I spent some time at Church House in Kidlington, on a course that was advertised as helping school leaders to become more familiar with the revised SIAMs framework that the school is subject to (this stands for Statutory Inspection of Anglican and Methodist Schools). We are currently rated as ‘good with outstanding features’ from our last Inspection in January 2017 (a copy of the report is on our website and well worth a read if you haven’t done so – or haven’t done so for a while!) As it turned out, the day was less an instructional lecture about how to complete a lengthy self-evaluation document, but rather took a much broader approach by asking us to address the key question, ‘’why do you do what you do?’’
A lot of thought and discussion then followed about what we want the vision for our school to be, and it obligated a fresh and objective look at what our school vision statement actually is. For those of you who weren’t part of our community in 2014, the current iteration of our school vison came about as a consultation with all stakeholders in school – pupils, parents, all staff, governors and the local community, including the church. The vision that emerged over quite a lengthy period of time was one that was distinctly Christian, and one that absolutely states the inclusive and unique culture we want to follow and celebrate here at Marlborough. We are proudly a Church School, which is fundamentally different to a Faith School – as our presenter put it at our training session, ‘’Faith Schools are for the faithful; Church Schools are for everyone.’’
As I begin the process of completing our last cycle of self-evaluation and finalising key priorities for 2019 and beyond, the idea of a reassertion of our central vision seems to me to be both desirable and necessary. I spent some time with our new staff this week, and it was refreshing and affirming to discuss the vision of our school with colleagues who will be joining the school in September. As we did, I will leave you to reflect on what we want our school to be, and in what we all believe in:
At The Marlborough Church of England School, we are committed to the enrichment of the whole person and believe that every individual has the right to the best possible education. In line with the aims of the Oxford Diocesan Board, we:
- Recognise the uniqueness of every individual;
- Provide a safe, happy and healthy environment;
- Seek to develop our social, moral, spiritual and cultural understanding of the world;
- Enable all our students to achieve the best possible outcomes.
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. Our school cannot simply be measured by outcomes alone, but by the people it helps to shape.
May 2019: Beginnings and Endings
As I mentioned in my Whole School Assembly last week, this time in school is always a bitter-sweet period. As a community, we are all pleased when the waiting is finally over and the exams can actually start in earnest – the tension dissipates, the pupils become more focussed and we can start to settle in to a really strong routine. So far, the GCSEs have gone remarkably well – the new flooring in the exam hall is fantastic, and the pupils have every advantage they need to do their absolute best. Their attitude and behaviour has been exemplary so far – long may this continue.
Amid the excitement of exams and the summer term, is the knowledge that, for some of our Year 11s, this will be their last few weeks with us, and for Year 13, this really is the end of their time here at Marlborough. Earlier this week we had our annual Year 13 Leavers’ Service on Wednesday evening held at St Mary Magdalene Church in Woodstock and it was a wonderful occasion – one that was both happy and sad, deliberately nostalgic but exciting and optimistic at the same time.
As it was our Church Service, one of the most beautiful and moving moments was the Leavers’ Prayer, written for the occasion by Emily Hoyland. It seemed to capture perfectly what we all wanted to say. We are, rightly, proud of them all.
We thank you for the celebration of this afternoon and for the opportunity to reflect on the achievements of the last two years. For the challenges that make us stronger; for the experiences that shape us; the people that we have encountered; and the friendships that have been made.
For us, the teachers of these students, we pray for them and entrust them into your care: that there is happiness and joy ahead of them; for your wisdom and guidance to be beside them; and for your love and protection to be with them, wherever they go. Surround them with your peace during the exam period, and give them confidence in their hard work.
We lift you to the next chapter of their lives that you would give an overflowing of your blessings upon them: the blessings of friendships; the blessing of knowledge; and the blessing of memories.
In your heavenly name we pray,
February 2019: A time for action
Recently, I had a difficult decision to make. A small number of students, and their parents, had written to me to ask permission for their son or daughter to miss school on a school day. Now the rules for attending school are really clear – and not just our rules, the law is really clear – and I very rarely sanction any absence that would mean pupils miss their lessons. Indeed, as a school we work extremely hard to get all of our pupils to attend as often as they can. The link between attendance and attainment is unequivocal, so we know that being in school is so important for future success.
However, these students wanted to attend an event that was part of an organised national protest against climate change.
It was a difficult position for me to be in, as I am both the Headteacher of our school, but also a passionate believer in creating a better world for the children of this school, and for my own children, and their children, and the generations that will follow. I was also, when I was at school, an active participant in political events and earlier this academic year, on Friday 28th September, I joined one thousand other Head teachers to hand in a petition to Downing Street regarding our concerns about the lack of adequate school funding. I felt it was important I was there and important that my voice was heard. And so I am hugely sympathetic when young people express their passion and concern about major issues. I know, from all my years of being a teacher, that young people aren’t apathetic; they do care; and that, collectively, they do want to make a difference.
And then, on the same day as the protest, I received a number of letters from a group of Year 11 students. Some of the content of the letters was pretty hard-hitting. One student asked me: ‘’What is the point in having recycling bins indoors when we don’t have them outside, because if a student buys something from the canteen and they want to throw the wrapper away, they go to a bin, but as there are no recycling bins outside, they just put it in the general waste bin.’’ Of course, once something is pointed out to you, it seems so obvious. Another letter contained a direct challenge: ‘’Mr Hanlon, if you really care about protecting our planet for future generations, and for your own children, act now.’’
These pupils echoed the words of Sir David Attenborough when addressing world leaders at the World Economic Forum this January. He urged us, as the Year 11s had done, to “get on with the practical tasks at hand.’’
It is these practical tasks that we, as a school, will now focus on. There is much that can be done, and much that we are doing, already – from working with ‘Sustainable Woodstock’ on organised litter picks; changing all our packaging and canteen cups to recyclable ones; installing solar panels and LED lighting; putting the vast majority of our lighting on timers; and sourcing our food from as many local sources as we can.
However, I know there is more we can do and I am determined we will do. We know that when we decide to do something as a school, we can achieve anything. At whole School Assembly on Wednesday, I challenged all of the school community, students and adults, to make small changes to our behaviour that will make a big difference. In doing this, we can truly live our values, of wanting the best possible future for all our young people.
December 2018: Curriculum matters
The term before Christmas is always really busy due to the rounds of concerts, celebrations and award ceremonies we try to pack in to the pre-Christmas period. Life in school can feel hectic at times, so having a real sense of clarity about what happens in our classrooms on a daily basis is absolutely crucial to a successful school. I have mentioned before about our clear and uncompromising expectations of behaviour, which are encapsulated and articulated in our ‘Ready to Learn’ agreement that is, I feel, lived out as a daily reality of how we treat each other in our lessons. The excellent behaviour of our students provides teachers with the opportunity to really think about their teaching and to be able to develop and constantly improve their practice.
One of the main priorities for us as a school since the Ofsted Inspection earlier this year has been to look really closely and carefully at our curriculum. There is a lot of discussion at both local and national level about what is meant by an appropriate curriculum. It is important to understand that the idea of what we mean in school by the term ‘curriculum’ has changed. The new Framework for Inspection (2019) defines it in this way: ‘’The curriculum is a framework for setting the aims of a programme for education, including the knowledge and understanding to be gained at each stage (intent); for translating that framework over time into a structure and narrative (implementation) and for evaluating what knowledge and understanding pupils have gained against expectations (impact).’’ In everyday terms, this means being really clear and specific about why we teach what we do, what content we teach, when we teach it and how we assess our young people’s knowledge and understanding of this, It sounds simple; it is a complex and challenging task.
As a school, we are dedicating significant time to this crucial process and, having spent time on this in our October INSET, our teachers will be returning to this in January, building on our work and ensuring that we are specifying what we are teaching in every class, to every student, in every year group. The focus on careful, deliberate and rigorous curriculum planning helps us to address not only the needs of more able pupils by building in levels of significant challenge and high value activities, but also to address issues such as the ‘vocabulary deficit’ experienced by some of our more vulnerable pupils who need specific support to make the progress we expect of them.
This is why this work is so important, and why I feel that we are putting these firm and lasting foundations in place that will be of huge benefit to the pupils of the school in the medium to long term. It is rewarding and inspiring to see our teachers working so hard on these areas, and focusing on improving the classroom experience of our children. There is no greater priority for our school than this.
October 2018: A strong start
The first term of the new academic year is always hectic and this year has been no exception – Open Evenings and Mornings, Information Evenings, Governors Meetings, school improvement visits and INSET Days – not to mention the day to day teaching of lessons, which is the central focus of all our work here at school. We have also had the excitement of the King Prize Award for creative writing, The Blenheim Literary Festival prize for non-friction writing and the Brian Paice Award for services to the community. It has been wonderful to see such commitment and talent on show, and to recognise and celebrate the achievements of our young people.
It was this time a year ago that we began to crystallise our work as teachers around the idea that forms a central part of our vision statement, that of a ‘commitment to excellence’. This was affirmed when we joined the River Learning Trust in April – to the extent that they adopted this as one of their key vision statements as well! There is a genuine feeling in school that we are in a really strong place at the moment, and that the changes and improvements we have made over the years are currently being felt by the students, teachers, parents, governors and all staff who are part of our Marlborough family.
We have worked tirelessly to make this commitment to excellence a daily reality in school and I am pleased to say that the shift from 6 x 50 minute lessons to 5 x 1 hour lessons has happened smoothly. We are already seeing an impact in lots of areas with fewer transitions meaning that our calm site is even calmer. The longer lesson time has meant that teachers are able to focus on our agreed principles of how to enhance the classroom experience of all students: by getting them started on work straight away; by providing time for students to respond to feedback; by asking probing and stimulating questions; by providing a level of challenge appropriate for all pupils, including our more able; and setting work that, once completed, the pupils can be proud of.
There is more to do, but the purpose and focus of this first term, coming on the back of some of our best results ever, bodes really well for what is to come next. We will continue do our very best to maintain the high standards and expectations we have set for ourselves as a school for the rest of the year.
July 2018: ‘Commitment to excellence’ – in everything we do
There are many events towards the end of the school year that signal the end of term and preparing for summer holidays. In the last few weeks we have had the summer cabaret, the school ball, Year 6 transition days, celebration assemblies, residential trips and more recently, staff summer parties and retirement celebrations. One such event that I always look forward to in the penultimate week of the school year is Sports Day. This year, coming during one of the most prolonged periods of hot weather in recent times, was a particular challenge to organise. We are always focused on the safety and well-being of all our students, and so had to prepare for the forecast of both thunderstorms and torrential rain, as well as blazing sun on a wide-open field.
As events played out, the sun shone and the trees provided enough shade for the majority of students – as did the erection of half the gazebos in Woodstock – and with a plentiful supply of fluids from our water stations, we were able to have a fantastic day. Looking across our field, I was amazed at how inclusive the day was and how everyone had got involved – students of all year groups, including the Sixth Form; staff; teachers; the Ormerod students – it was absolutely brilliant. I loved the role-modelling of effort and team-work shown by the staff relay and tug-of-war teams, and have already demanded a re-match with the Sixth Form team who fielded a highly unorthodox 17 - strong team! It was good fun.
The stars of the show were, of course, our students – supporting each other, straining every sinew to do their best, pushing themselves to the limit – I love seeing the full commitment they give to everything they do. This year there were a record number of school records broken – 9 in total - some of which had stood for nearly 30 years. There was one word that summed the day up for me – joyful.
All of these ‘signposts’ of the end of the school year are part of the cycle of school life. School officially closes for the summer for students, but there will be a massive amount of work done ‘behind the scenes’ – I spend these weeks planning the school priorities and writing the development plan for next year as well as project managing the building and decorating work going on in school. We are refurbishing the entire Sports Hall, including lighting, flooring and re-decoration of all areas; installing - at last - new toilets in the main block; having new LED lighting in the main block and Science Classrooms; re-designing our new Pastoral Centre from the Heads of Year Offices; decorating and refurbishing the Sixth Form Common Room and surrounding area to create a ‘Learning Hub’ for our new Sixth Form students, putting down new carpets in ICT; and having our drains cleaned!
All this commitment of time and money will go towards improving the facilities and experiences for our young people next year. In the meantime, thank you once again for all your support and positive feedback.
I hope you all have a restful and relaxing summer break.
June 2018: endings and beginnings
This week saw the final GCSE and A Level exams take place and all of our Year 11 and 13 students complete their, sometimes gruelling, examination period. Huge praise should go to all of them for the monumental effort they put in to all their studies. They can do no more, but deserve great credit for their maturity, determination and sheer stamina to make it through. It was lovely to see many of them back in school this week giving cards and presents to their teachers, as well as attending the summer cabaret concert. They have clearly benefitted from the many supportive and nurturing relationships during their time at Marlborough – and I must say they looked much more relaxed than they had done in months!
I was talking to a parent of a Year 13 student who was describing her ‘bitter sweet’ feelings of seeing her young son now grown up and ready to leave home/school, and feeling the conflicting emotions of wanting him to be independent and start his own life, with going through almost a stage of grief for her son who has grown up so much over the past 7 years and who has been so happy at our school. This was really contrasted strongly for me when I spent the morning last week at the second of our transition days, welcoming 180 Year 6 pupils who will, one day, be the Year 13 class of 2025! The whole group made a fantastic impression and it was invigorating and exciting to see so much enthusiasm, positivity and resilience in young people. One student commented on his way home, ‘’that was the BEST DAY of school EVER!’’ They were a delight and a credit to their primary schools.
It struck me that, as people who work in schools, we are immensely privileged to play a role in the development and growth of young people. Two of the parents who dropped off their children were students I used to teach years ago. We reminisced about their experiences in my lessons (which were all positive I have to say!) and once again reflected on how quickly time passes and how children turn into adults, and ultimately parents themselves. This is the great thing about schools – that they are always renewing themselves, whilst always staying the same. The thing that keeps us energised and optimistic is, without doubt, the infectious optimism of youth and the joy of working with young people. When one generation leaves, there are always others to come and take their place. The cycle continues, and we all play our part. If the foundations on which we have built Marlborough are our shared values, then it is both sobering and comforting to know that school will continue in the way it always has, long after we have gone.
May 2018: ‘We are Marlborough’
At the end of last term I took part in the Marlborough School annual ‘Battle of the Bands’ event. My role in the proceedings, as it has been for the past few years, has been to be a member of the judging panel that decides who wins the overall competition. It was, as always, a fantastic event, brilliantly organised by Mr Flanagan’s Young Enterprise Elective group. On the night, it was a high quality competition and the overall result a close-run thing with the band ‘The Feedback’ emerging as the worthy winners.
As the evening unfolded, I began to realise what a big responsibility I had as a judge. I could see that, not only were the acts listening to my comments and seeing what marks I had awarded them, but so were the audience – which included the friends, parents and grandparents of those involved. Putting yourself forward to be judged in this way takes a huge amount of courage, and being judged for doing something you care about is a really difficult thing.
Having to judge the acts at the Battle of the Bands reminded me of a couple of student-led Whole School Assemblies that we have had recently at school. I was thinking particularly of the assembly that our Year 9 students prepared on the theme of diversity and stereotyping. What struck me most about that assembly was that the students themselves had produced a video presentation, stating publically and clearly, that here at school we try never to judge anyone else, and that, despite all of our unique personalities, diverse backgrounds and many differences, what unites us is our common identity – this idea that, together, ‘’We are Marlborough’’.
I was also reflecting on the brilliant assembly delivered by our Sixth Formers that reminded us all that there is always someone there to help and support you in your time of need. As the Sixth Formers themselves demonstrated, we should try to have the strength and courage to speak out with honesty and integrity, safe in the knowledge that someone will listen and someone will take action. The assembly ended with another really memorable image, the dramatic sight of the whole of the Sixth Form standing as one to re-enforce the message - ‘’we stand together’’. Two inspiring assemblies.
Having recently led the school through a rigorous process of inspection myself, feeling vulnerable as you go through a process of being judged is one that I know well. But throughout the last term I found myself again and again being inspired by the things that the students at this school have taught me – be brave; be honest; have confidence in yourself and who you are; have faith in others to come through for you; trust in your colleagues and trust in the hard work you have put in. In the words of our students: “We are Marlborough. We stand together’’.
April 2018: The Marlborough School Joins River Learning Trust
Here at Marlborough, we remain an ambitious and forward-looking school and, as of the 1st April, we entered a new phase in the 78-year history of the Marlborough C of E School. We have now become part of a multi-academy trust, the River Learning Trust. Discussions regarding joining a multi-academy trust began back in June 2017, influenced by the changes to the educational landscape and our desire to ensure the best future for our pupils, staff, families and local community. Following careful research and investigation, consultation of all stakeholders, including all staff, parents, governors and the local community, our committed body of Governors decided, unanimously, that the River Learning Trust was the most appropriate multi academy trust for our school.
The school’s Governing Body has been outstanding during the transfer process and I was pleased that the support of governors was recognised in the recent Ofsted Report that commented on the extremely strong governing body who bring ‘’considerable expertise and a wide range of skills’’ to support the school. The Governors hold the school to account well and have demonstrated their ‘’ambition to take the school forward (by) joining the River Learning Trust. Governors intend that this partnership will help leaders learn from the best practice of other successful schools.’’
This is an important step for us as the Trust and its partners will provide both support and challenge, as well as a genuine opportunity for us to grow and develop as a school. We are joining an organisation that has a proven track record of success, and, as equal partners in the Trust, we will have the chance to share what we do well with others, as well as learning from some of the best schools in the country.
We are joining River Learning Trust to provide the capacity and expertise to help us improve; we have the key leaders and teachers in place to take us to the next level. It is a challenging and exciting time for all of us at Marlborough.
March 2018: Reflections on the Ofsted Inspection
I hope by now that most of you will have read our recent Ofsted report that was published earlier this month. The full report is available on our website. The inspection certainly took up significant energy this term, but has affirmed the really good things we do here at Marlborough whilst at the same time providing us with a clear focus and priorities for further school improvement. I was delighted by the overall judgement as ‘good’ in every major category. This means that the school is good in: the effectiveness of leadership and management; the quality of teaching, learning, and assessment; in personal development, behaviour and welfare; outcomes for pupils; and therefore is rated as ‘good’ in terms of ‘’overall effectiveness’’.
There were significant highlights in the report and it was clear that the Inspection Team were able to get a real sense of our school. The opening sentences of the report capture the balance we are looking to achieve here at Marlborough, between being academically rigorous and ambitious, whilst providing a caring and nurturing environment in which our young people can flourish. It reads, ‘’Leaders have established an ethos of high aspirations. They ensure that pupils benefit from a well-rounded education at the school.’’
I would like to thank all our parents and carers who spoke so warmly of the school to the Inspection Team – we value your support and encouragement immensely. To lead such a special school is both humbling and a privilege. It is a great responsibility and a great source of pride. It was fantastic to read this sense of pride reflected in the report: ‘’Pupils are proud of their school…relationships are very positive and staff morale, high. All of the staff who responded to the Ofsted’s Staff Survey said that they were proud to work in the school.’’
There are of course, areas for us to work on. As the Inspection was a Section 5, two-day Inspection, the report outlines those areas we will need to focus on moving forward. We know where our areas for development are, and have the determination, the clear plans and the capacity to address these.
Many parents and carers have congratulated the school on the outcome and commented on what a challenging couple of days it must have been. This is certainly true, but the real work has taken place over the past four years to get the school where it is today: values-driven; safe; purposeful; a community based on learning; ambitious; caring; secure in itself and with the potential and desire to be even better. We know what we have to do, and as I have said to all my colleagues, the hard work starts now.
We will not be complacent in building on the strengths outlined in this report. I am confident that we can, and determined that we will.
March 2018: A Thriving Community
The end of term is often a time for reflection. Looking back over the past few weeks, I am amazed by the achievements of our students and the opportunities available to them. Our annual Charities Week fund-raiser was a particular highlight of the last term. An amazing effort by everyone in the community saw us hand over super-sized cheques of nearly £2000 to four different charities. These will make a massive difference to the lives of others and I am grateful to all students and parents who committed themselves to making this possible.
Another great event was ‘Battle of the Bands’. Increasingly, this was an example of an event organised, directed, run, presented and starring our young people. It was not just an entertaining evening with a very knowledgeable judging panel, but another opportunity for our young people to show themselves as confident and ambitious whilst developing crucial skills in lots of different areas.
There are also numerous examples of academic challenge beyond the classroom: in Maths; Science; Languages; Music; English; and History. This high level of challenge is a crucial part of our improvement strategy as a school. Place this alongside our foreign and domestic trips, comprehensive Elective Programme and the thriving Sports Department, you can see how our recent Ofsted Inspection Team were hugely impressed with the broad range of opportunities available to all our young people.
The good work will continue next term with the focus on examinations for Year 11 and Sixth Form students. I am confident that our young people are well prepared for this challenging time and this is due to our commitment to ensure that students are nurtured, cherished and cared for by our passionate and dedicated staff, as well as being determined to achieve the best outcomes possible for all our young people.
January 2018: New Year’s Resolutions
I was having a conversation on New Year’s Day with my family about our New Year’s resolutions. These usually involve something to do with your role in your family - doing more jobs around the house or perhaps something to with diet or exercise – I started the ‘couch to 5k’ running programme last week and am hoping to carry on with this in the coming weeks – or something to do with school: better routines with homework; to be more organised; to spend less time on social media; to be kinder to your friends; to be kinder to people who aren’t your friends; perhaps to worry less about things.
I was interested in the psychology of New Year resolutions – the word ‘resolute’ means to be purposeful, determined, unwavering. And I am sure, like me, we all make our resolutions with the best of intentions – we want a new start, a chance to make a change, an opportunity to do something differently, do something better. But often, this is much harder to achieve than we think. We can always find reasons not to do something – too busy, too tired, too difficult. It seems that being ‘resolute’ isn’t enough – we need to find other ways of changing and adapting our behaviour. What is required, it seems to me, is a genuine commitment to wanting to change, to make a New Year’s decision, rather than a ‘resolution’. I then began to reflect on what might be a New Year resolution, or rather, a New Year’s decision for our school. What would we want to change, to do differently, to do better?
At this time in the year, it is worthwhile re-visiting what we all agree is the common aim of our school. Our vision statement says that ‘’we aim to be the best we can be’’ and that we are ‘’committed to excellence in all that we do’’. It is this commitment to excellence that drives me every day and one that the teachers here at school have spent some time considering what this means for us all in our classrooms, and in our lessons. Our commitment to all our students is that we will be absolutely prioritising the progress and learning that takes place in our lessons throughout 2018.
We will have work and activities ready as soon as the students arrive in the classroom so that they can start straight away, not wait for the last person to arrive. We have made a commitment to mark books and assessments regularly and to give the students feedback in the very best way to help them improve. We are committed to providing challenging work that makes our students think and stretches them at whatever level they are at in that subject; committed to asking interesting and thought provoking questions of everyone in the class to make sure they are all engaged, not just compliant; and we are committed to giving all of our young people opportunities to complete extended pieces of work that they can be really proud of. These are decisions we have taken. They will help everyone to do well and although we may not always get this right, we are determined to try our best.
If I could make a New Year’s resolution for all of us, it would be simply this – to find moments of joy in our lives, particularly when we come to school. Often, the reality is that we can’t change what events are going to take place. Our exams will happen. They will come and they will go. The one thing we can change is how we feel about this, and how we react to situations. Complaining and being negative - these are all choices that we make. Instead, let’s choose to be positive, to tell ourselves that we can, and we will. Let’s stop worrying about things we can’t control, and embrace the possibilities that come with every new day. Of course school can be a challenge, but one that we are well able to meet and to do so joyfully, with resolution, with courage and with a smile.
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 School 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.