Sunday, 6 September 2015

Welcome back!

Dear Parents and Carers
I am extremely pleased with this year’s exam results and with the school’s successes across and beyond the curriculum.
The building project is progressing well and is on schedule.  We have two teams of builders in -  one for the major project and a second doing some additional work.  Both teams are led by former students of the school.  We are asking all families to contribute to our voluntary building fund.
I am proposing some changes to the way in which we report to parents on student progress.
‘Open house’ Wednesdays.  The senior team will be available after school each Wednesday to meet with any parents who have concerns or suggestions.
Homework is the key to success and those students who undertook their homework tasks with the most commitment were the students who excelled in the recent exams.  Healthy eating is also essential and we have decided to ban formally the consumption of ‘energy drinks’ at the school.
We continue to insist on the highest standards in our uniform.  Skirts which are too short and hair which is unacceptable cause issues for us, which can be easily avoided.
We are making some amendments to the timings of the school day, but the start and finish times are unchanged.
There have been some changes to bus timetables and to the cost of single travel on Stagecoach buses.
Please complete the reply slip you received in the post.  We are very keen to move to a predominantly electronic style of communication so your email addresses are important to us.  We are inviting all parents to sign up for Insight, which enables you to access your children’s data, and to use the school App to keep in touch with school events on line.  Both these facilities are accessed via the school website. 
The App, which is a relatively new initiative, is at
Success and Hard Work
We ended the summer term in a flurry of activity and visits. 
One of the school’s biggest successes in the last week of term came on the tennis courts.  The school tennis team came a brilliant fifth place in the nationals this month.  The team made the last eight but were narrowly beaten by Merchiston Castle from Scotland.  They then went on to beat Sutton Tennis Academy (Cheam) with Rhodri Atkinson and Ollie Palmer putting in fantastic displays and winning both their matches with brilliant performances to finish in fifth place in the country.
This is a truly exceptional performance from a team at a comprehensive school.  Well done to the boys and thanks to Keiran Montagu, the coaches and the whole team for all their hard work
Congratulations also to the Under-15 boys who won the County title by beating Bournside.  We wish them well as they progress to the regional stages in September.  They did not lose a single match in the whole season winning every fixture 6-0: a brilliant performance! Very well done to the team:  Rhodri Atkinson, James Holden, Miles Ray and to Brandon Thigpen as well as to Luke Fullard who was unavailable for this match but played for the rest of the season.
There is a lot we can learn from the tennis success.  These young people have enormous talent, which has been recognised and developed, but they also work very hard.  They devote many hours each week to practice and fitness and dedicated time to tennis.  The combination of talent, coaching and practice leads to national success of a truly remarkable kind.
This pattern exists throughout the school.  In every area of the curriculum, we have talented individuals;  in every area of the school we have talented teachers and coaches;  in every subject we have students who are prepared to give time to their school work.  As a result of this, our A-level results, once again, provide us with something to celebrate.
This year, the percentage of A* and B grades at A-level has gone up to 45%.  This is a terrific achievement and it is worth underlining that this means that nearly half of all the results we received were A*, A or B.  No wonder our students were able to take up places at terrific universities, including this year two students, Alessia Tarantino and Gianluca Bertone who gained the high standard of A-level results required to begin courses in medicine.  We are very proud of them and indeed of all our sixth-formers.
Of the one hundred and fourteen students who took three or more A levels, 3 students got 3 or more grades at A*/A and thirty-eight secured three passes A*-B.  Amongst these students were some exceptional performers:
·         Pat Davie                            (2014)                 Economics, Jesus College Oxford.
·         Josh Gittings                      A*A*A*                  Mathematics, Warwick
·         Matthew Robertson       A*A*A*                 Medicine, Cardiff
·         Freya Sheer-Hardwick                A*A*A                   Mathematics, Warwick
·         Lawrence Padfield         AAB                       Choral Scholarship (TBC)
·         Sam Brown                        AAC                       Media Apprenticeship NHS
·         Theo Bulless                      AAB                       Chemistry, Birmingham
·         Katherine Dunn               A*AB                     Psychology, Birmingham
·         Jamie Ellis                          AAB                       Engineering, Portsmouth
·         Abbie Jarvis                       A*AB                     History, Exeter
·         Kim Jones                           A*BB                     Mathematics, Birmingham
·         Jack Kirk                             A*AB                     Politics, Bath
·         Matt McKeown                            AAB                     History, Exeter
·         Fran Stansfield                 AAB                       History, Exeter
·         Harry Stansfield              AAB                       tbc
·         Chris Thomas                   AAB                       Physics, Exeter
·         Martha Tomlins               A*BB                     Nursing, Plymouth
·         Jordan Vertannes            A*BB                     History, Cardiff
St Peter’s ensures that students are on the right courses, but we do not place barriers in students’ paths.  Not every student can achieve an A-grade at A-level.  For many of our students a portfolio of passes at C, D and E grades is a real success, which reflects hard work and dedication.  They will go on to college courses and employment with confidence and satisfaction and we congratulate all of them.
Nonetheless, I wish our young people could all work on their A-levels as consistently and with such dedication as our tennis teams.  Those who do work, as we see every year, gain the very top grades and get to the very best universities;  like the tennis teams, like the rugby teams and the gymnasts, like the school choir and drama groups – the list goes on and on - they demonstrate that attending a Catholic comprehensive school is simply no barrier at all to competing with the most expensive and most exclusive schools in the country.
I am so disappointed when I find some sixth-formers who prefer to lounge their time away, who abuse the privilege of being allowed off site, who hand in work late, work which is often incomplete or shoddy.  These are not a large number, and Mr Barnard and his team work with them thoroughly and personally, but it upsets me that they need such cajoling when they have been given such a marvellous opportunity.
Let’s just take this summer’s tennis team as an example:  they did not prefer to lounge their time away;  they did not abuse the privileges afforded them and they did their work as well as they could.  Every sixth-former, every student in the school, should follow that example.
In this coming year, sixth-form courses are changing.  Most are moving in the first year of change to two-year courses.  It is therefore really important that students are on the right courses, courses where they can succeed and excel.  The sixth-form team and teachers will be monitoring work very closely for the first six weeks on the course and at the end of that period, students will receive a formal letter confirming their places on the courses they have begun.   Should we be unable to make that confirmation, students will have met with tutors and college heads to discuss their choices and perhaps to make changes.
At GCSE, we have sustained the progress made last year.  We are looking at almost identical overall figures as 2014, with some 64% of students getting 5 GCSEs or more at A* to C (including English and maths) and with over 75% of grades at C or better.    Over the next few weeks, Mrs Stenson, our data manager, will help us to understand in detail all the results and identify areas where we need to focus improvement.
Eight students gained all ten GCSE passes at A* and A and 27 gained 7 passes at A* and A.  There were 121 A* grades across the board:  all subjects are enabling students to excel.
As I write this, the building work looks rather frighteningly messy!  Nevertheless, everything is going to plan and we should have all the rooms available to us at the beginning of term, though work will continue – in replacing the walls room by room – until November.
In the end, we shall have much better buildings, and in particular we will have a much better teaching area for Design Technology;  we want this area to be a growth area in the school, with a wider range of academic and vocational courses on offer. 
The building costs money.  We received a huge grant from the government – and we’re spending every penny of it! – but other expenses come along which we have to fund from our annual ‘capital grant’.  One such expense, this time, has been on asbestos which has had to be removed. 
We regularly ask parents to contribute to our building fund, to help balance the books with this kind of work, and I need to ask you to contribute again, please.  If we received £10 for every student this year, we should get £17,000 which would make a huge difference to our building budget for this year.  We will all see the benefits of the newly refurbished buildings.
I ask you to contribute in this way.  Not all of you will be able to – times are hard – but if you can, would you please do so now at the beginning of the year, so that we know where we stand.  I am asking for £10 per student for the building fund to cover the whole year.  I enclose with this letter a bank form, if you want to pay the money in instalments or directly from your bank, and a ‘building fund envelope’ in which you can return cash to your child’s tutor.
Very many thanks for your help here.  
Several parents have told me that the current assessment letters are confusing.  The nature of this confusion lies in the fact that students are often given good grades for their work – both for homework and for classwork – but then told, in these letters, that they are failing to meet their targets.
I am addressing this issue in three ways.
Firstly, I am changing the school grading system.  It is now incredibly complicated with levels in some key stage 3 subjects – but not all – with letter grade GCSEs in most subjects but with new numeric grades in English and maths and with many A-levels dropping the AS option.  I have proposed that we place above all this our own scale which uses words we understand.  At the end of this letter, you will get a copy of the new table.  It may look daunting at first!  But for every grading on the report letter, students will be given one of these new ‘words’ and you will be able to see at a glance how they are doing, and where they ought perhaps to be doing better.
Secondly, I am asking teachers to be more confident in assessing work.  I see homework books which praise work – sometimes with stickers and all sorts! – and then award grades which are ‘below target’.  Teachers I think are afraid of students becoming complacent, but I think there is a case for praising students who work well and for telling them that, yes, you are on target, even when the target is high.
Finally, I am asking teachers to give more time to the assessments for the letters, to make sure there are no embarrassing gaps and to make sure that assessments are accurate and exact.  I am asking tutors to add personal comments about each student to show you that the school understands each student and knows their strengths and where they can improve.  To balance this, I am suggesting that we dispense with the final written report of the year:  I want the three assessment letters to be as good as reports and to show parents how their sons and daughters are progressing through the year.
I ask you to support me with this.  During the year, and at the end of it, I shall ask formally for comments about the termly reporting system, and if we need to change it, in part or altogether, we shall discuss how to do this.
I want you to feel confident that you know how students are doing, how they can do better, and so on;  I want you to feel sure that the teachers at St Peter’s know your children well.
‘Open House’ Wednesdays
Support for our work from parents and carers is crucial to us.
We are beginning a new idea this year.  Members of the school leadership team will be available in school from 4 pm till 6.30 pm each Wednesday so that parents can speak to them about any issues they are concerned about.  Some weeks will have a special focus – pastoral concerns, progress, etc  (Just to ensure that things go smoothly, we do ask for parents to email by 11 am with a brief mention of their concern or the topic you want to raise.  Please email Reception:
If you are concerned about behaviour, progress; if you want advice about working at home to support the school;  if you would like to get more involved in the work of the school -  all these may be reasons why you should want to come into the school to talk to one of the senior members of staff. 
These meetings will take place in the Board Room at the bottom of the site, so parking will be easy.
We are monitoring homework closely, and in July 2015 we conducted a full scrutiny of students’ work.  There is still work to do, and there are still areas of inconsistency, but we are pleased overall by the progress being made.
In a nutshell, each subject will set twelve homeworks over the year, and students will be given a week to complete each homework.  Students need to learn how to manage their time so that they complete all homework to the best of their ability.  We invite all parents to engage with this, and to look at the work and the marking.  It is important for St Peter’s that all students make progress.
We also ask parents for support regarding uniform.  We do want students to look smart, to feel business-like and confident in class, and to give the best possible impression of the school to our neighbours.  On the other hand, teachers perhaps have more important things to do than nag students about their appearance.  This is an area where students can really help the school – if they look smart from the start – as so many of them do! - we can focus on the key areas of teaching and learning.
We are particularly concerned at the moment about girls’ skirts and boys’ hair.  As I mentioned in the newsletter/blog, some boys are copying footballers’ hairstyles which may look good but is not appropriate for study and school.  We are always in a difficult position when we try to address inappropriate hairstyles:  we do not want to keep students out of class – and damage their education – because of their hairstyle, but we can’t accept a free-for-all.  Please help us to work together so that hairstyles – especially boys’ hairstyles – are moderate and sober enough to work with a school uniform. 
Secondly, some of the girls’ skirts are too short.  Sometimes this is because the skirt no longer fits;  more often it is because the girls have rolled them over.  In the new term, Mrs Gittins and Mrs Layhe are going to be scrupulous in addressing this issue.  In the long term, we shall consider changing the uniform skirt to one which is harder to roll;  in the short term we may have to insist that girls who seem unable to come to school in a long enough skirt wear trousers.
The sixth-form dress code has been very successful in bringing a maturity to the behaviour of many of our sixth-formers.  The boys have opted for a smarter look than the girls, and in the new term we shall be warmly inviting all sixth-form girls to try and dress as smartly as the boys.  Girls need to pay particular attention to skirts and to trousers which should be tailored.   The sixth form dress code is on  the website:
It may be wrong, but people judge a school superficially and instantly by the appearance and behaviour of its students.  Everyone who attends St Peter’s has to state this when they apply for courses and jobs:  it is therefore in all our interests that everyone who attends the school looks smart.
New School Day
We are making some amendments to the school day, with an extra study period in the morning and with more even lunchtimes.  Details of the school day will be on the website and in planners.  Start and finish times are unaffected.
We need to say a few things about the buses.
Firstly, there are some changes to timetables – (particularly to the Brockworth-Hucclecote-Abbeymead service) -  and these are shown clearly on the school website ‘buses’ page; please look closely to check details.
Secondly, to pick up the idea of behaviour in public judging a school, behaviour of St Peter’s students on public buses must be exemplary.  It only takes three or four selfish individuals to damage the reputation of the whole school. 
We are concerned that in anonymous online surveys, students have told us that the only bullying they experience at St Peter’s is on the buses.  This must stop.  Those three or four selfish individuals are not only damaging the school’s reputation but intimidating other students. 
This new year, we shall be working on introducing a ‘prefect’ system for sixth-formers and older students.  They will be given the opportunity to apply to be a prefect, and they will be allocated a small ‘common room’ in recognition of their contribution.  We want them to set the highest standards around the school, and to manage the dining hall;  we also want them to keep an eye on the buses.  They will not be marshals:  they will simply inform us if incidents occur which should not have.
Please let us know of any problems your sons and daughters experience on our buses.
The school transport system is at threat and we are concerned, as St Peter’s relies on its buses.  We passionately believe of course that what St Peter’s offers warrants the cost of the bus fare.  But every year, the cost goes up, and there is little we can do about it.
There is a case for all under-18s to be given free travel on the county’s buses.  This would increase their sense of worth, enable their families to choose schools freely, and would benefit everyone who drives on the county’s roads.  David Drew, the Labour Party candidate for Stroud in the last general election, was convinced by these arguments and include the proposal in his ‘local manifesto’.  However, the seat was won by Neil Carmichael (who has become the chair of the education select committee).  It would be good for everyone in Gloucestershire if we could persuade Mr Carmichael of the strength of this argument.  All schools would benefit, and all families could choose the school they want for their children, whatever their income.
Indeed, Stagecoach are increasing the cost of their single ticket to £1.40.  However, they are keeping the weekly cost for St Peter’s students at £13.00.
Our job is to ensure that in every way the quality of education at St Peter’s warrants this expenditure, that its distinctive Catholic nature, the quality of teaching and learning available, the commitment of its staff to extra-curricular activities – music, drama, sports, the Duke of Edinburgh Award – and its care of all students continue to be excellent.
I should add here that limited financial help towards transport costs is available from the county for families on limited income.  [See their webpage at or speak to the school.]
Healthy Eating
We are very pleased with progress made in the kitchens and the dining hall over the last two years.  The food is more varied and healthier and the ‘cashless catering’ arrangement – though it does have its moments! – helps us to monitor what students are buying.
We shall be working in the next term to ensure that our kitchen offers meals and snacks which are fully compliant with the ‘school food plan’ as firmly recommended by the government.  We believe that a good, balanced diet not only helps children’s health but also helps them to work better at school.  We shall keep you informed about this project as it develops.
We are facing a small problem, however, with students bringing ‘energy drinks’ into the school.  All the advice we have received confirms that this is a bad practice:  such drinks are not healthy and the caffeine and sugar they include – or similar chemicals – do not help students to concentrate on their work.  We have therefore decided that these drinks will not be allowed in the school in future, and if teachers see them, whether they are being drunk or not at the time, they will be confiscated.  This sounds a little severe, but we prefer dealing with this problem in this way to dealing with the behaviour issues which ‘energy drinks’ promote.  Please support us in this so that we can avoid conflict with students.
I hope you have all enjoyed the break and are looking forward to another year’s work at school.  The autumn term is an extremely important one – we get nearly half the year’s work done in this one term!
Many thanks for your support of the school.
Yours sincerely,
Philip Rush

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