Saturday, 18 July 2015

July 2015:  The End of the Year
We have finished the long summer term and are beginning the holidays.  I need to bring you up to date with recent news and information.

On our final day, we said farewell to a group of teachers who are retiring after many years’ service at St Peter’s.  Mr Johns and Mrs Scott have worked with care and energy for many years in the modern languages and the science departments respectively;  Mr McMahon, who has gained huge respect as an RE teacher here, has said his farewells and Mr Curnow, who has been a fixture in the maths department for over twenty years, is putting down his calculator and maths books to spend more time with his family.  And finally, Mr Coughlan, who has been such an important influence at St Peter’s throughout a long career here, is saying goodbye to us. 

We wish all these colleagues the very best for the future.  We also wish the best to Miss Mancari (RE) and Mrs Rand (MFL) who are leaving us to take up posts elsewhere.

It is salutary to note that with these teachers goes over a hundred years’ experience of teaching at St Peter’s.  It hardly bears thinking about!  However, as Mr Coughlan made clear in his farewell speech, our young staff are full of energy, commitment and ability.  It is for them now to step up, in all their different ways, to fill these huge shoes and to maintain the standards of which we are so proud at St Peter’s.

The governors have appointed Mrs Gittins and Mrs Layhe as our new deputy headteachers.  Mrs Gittins has a hugely impressive record as a pastoral leader in the school, guiding heads of year, leading the transition from year 6 to year 7, and taking overall charge of the whole safeguarding system at the school.  Her experience and energy will be extremely valuable to the school.

Mrs Layhe is a key leader in teaching and learning at the school, with a wealth of experience and skills as a superb classroom teacher and departmental head.  She pays scrupulous attention to new initiatives in teaching and learning, and filters out the best fresh ideas so that we can maintain the highest standards here.

Mr Lax will be taking over as head of key stage 4.  He has had many years’ experience as head of year and has been ‘shadowing’ Mr Coughlan this last term, so that we can move on as seamlessly as possible. Mr Copestake will be taking over from Mr Johns, leading the school’s in-house training programme and the NQT programme for new teachers.  These are two very strong additions to our leadership team.

Finally, Mrs Haywood has been appointed to a new post, head of progress.  Her job is simple to explain but rather harder to do:  she has to ensure that all our students in key stage 4 make the best progress possible.  OfSTED are now looking very scrupulously at the progress of students - they want every student, whatever their ability or background, to gain the GCSE grades which they should.  By appointing someone to this role, the school is hoping that no student will ‘slip through the net’ and that we can continue to improve exam results across the board.

The governors have had to make these appointments at a time of funding cuts and tight budgets.  We are very grateful that these excellent and committed teachers have accepted posts on terms which reflect that financial position. 

You will have read in the press, and seen on TV, stories about the controversies surrounding school funding.  Although politicians promise no cuts to school funding, they are being a little disingenuous: school funding has been cut, especially in the sixth-form, and with sharp increases in National Insurance and pension contributions, the school is having to ‘give back’ a bigger proportion of its budget than before.  All schools are feeling this squeeze and there seems to be no end in sight.  We must manage our accounts tightly and ensure that every pound is spent wisely and to good effect.  Mr Blackshaw has joined us as our new business manager and he is working with the governors and with me to develop a five-year plan so that we can monitor our funding and expenditure.

We must not compromise the quality of lessons, the care of the students nor the things that make St Peter’s a special and happy community.  That is why the appointments of Mrs Gittins and Mrs Layhe are so important to me, as they will work with our talented leadership team - Dr Starkey, Mr McAteer, Mrs McHale, Mr Barnard, as well as the new appointments - to ensure that St Peter’s continues to improve as a school even as funding is squeezed.

One more initiative I need to inform you about is our decision to run an ‘alternative provision school’ unit here.   Each year we have a small handful of students - just four or five - who find it hard to conform to the rules and requirements of the main school.  If we do not address their needs, everyone suffers, including they themselves.  In the past we have used the ‘pupil referral unit’ in Gloucester to help with this.  However, although this unit is run by dedicated staff and very professionally, it is not always the best solution to the issues our students face.  Therefore, instead of paying for places there, we are setting up and staffing our own unit to address these needs, managed by the PE department.  In this way, we hope that students who need this kind of care will be able to continue with their studies and continue working with their teachers at St Peter’s while being managed a little more closely.  The programme will run at slightly different times from the main school, starting and finishing later, and will enable us to manage unsocial behaviour kindly but firmly.

On the one hand, we cannot allow a small handful of students to spoil the education of others, and we shall not do so.  But also, we must care for those students themselves, as long as they want to work with us. 

The last half-term of the year is always rather packed with events and trips out.  There are always some hiccups with such activities, but there have been very few, and the trips have enriched the experience of many of our young people, whether they have gone to Bristol Zoo for the day or to the Ardeche for a whole week.  I must thank all the staff who have given of their time and energy to make all these trips work.

The ‘writing workshops’ in Slad have been particularly noteworthy this year, with many students given the chance to work with London-based American poet Katy Evans-Bush in a beautiful farmhouse.  This year, she brought with her a big selection of vintage typewriters and huge rolls of paper, and these proved to be an inspiration to our young writers!

The year 9 retreats in Stroud were also very successful.  It is very encouraging to me when teachers in their first year or two at the school attend these retreats and come back to tell me how impressed they were with the content and with the students’ response to a day of spirituality.

Sports Day in the last week of term was a huge hit and I thank parents for their support for this.  There was a lovely atmosphere amongst staff and students.  It was lovely to see so many young people participating and lovely to see just how talented some of our athletes are!  A big thank you to the PE department for all this work.

The school continues to be popular and we will be welcoming new students to every year of the school in September!  We are particularly looking forward to welcoming our year 11 students back as sixth-formers.

Towards the end of the holidays, you will receive from the school a letter about the new year which will include information about the exam results and so on.  This letter will also include details about buses, free school meals and emailing.  There will also be some information about uniform and hair-styles.  This year we shall post a letter in the traditional way, so please look out for that, but we want to move to an electronic communication in future.  (Parents and carers who might find that difficult will still have the option to request a ‘proper’ letter!)

Perhaps I might say just a little more about hair-styles.  Please help us by making sure that all students return to school with the right sort of hair-style.  Schools are obliged to require their students to look smart and orderly, and although some hair-styles may look great on a Premiership footballer, they do not always work on a year 9 boy in a smart school uniform!

During the holidays the school is open on each day and a member of the leadership team is on duty each week.  If you have any queries, please email ‘’.  (On the other hand, because of building work and updates, the ‘24-hour school’ facility online may not be available constantly throughout the holidays;  please bear with us with that.)

 Do enjoy the break.  I hope everyone finds the opportunity for some relaxation and rest. 

 Philip Rush