Thursday, 20 October 2016

Our First Half Term
October 2016

The school has ended the first half-term on rather a high.  The house week provides a wonderful opportunity for a wide range of students to take part in proper, competitive sport and I am delighted by the standard of the hockey and rugby played this week and by the enthusiasm of the students involved.  A huge thank-you is earned by the PE department, especially by Miss Hadley.

The PE department also took our top rugby players to important national festivals in Ipswich and Norwich.  They did not win all their matches – that is a hard ask – but they did beat Hampton School.  And speaking as a man whose brother-in-law attended Hampton School, this makes everything pretty worthwhile from where I’m standing.  Well done!

And the evenings of our final week have been filled by a marvellous performance of The Pirates of Penzance which has been not only a credit to the students involved – wonderful talents emerging here, there and everywhere – but also to the staff, led this time by Mrs Perfect and Mr Waring.  A huge thank you to all.

This last fortnight has been the modern languages ‘faculty fortnight’ with talks to year 9 students, lunchtime films and more.  Studying modern languages is essential for the future prosperity of the country and I would advise all key stage 3 students who are even the slightest bit interested in learning languages to give GCSE French or Spanish very serious consideration.

We also had a very successful even promoting STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering and maths – to girls.  Caroline John STEM Manager, Gloucestershire - from Graphic Science, part of the training group who support public engagement in the research community - came to speak with girls in years 10 and 11 to inform them about the many aspirational career opportunities in STEM areas (science, technology, engineering and maths).

Our guests including Renishaw, Tata (IT), University of Bristol Research and CLG Engineering told us about their own career pathways and gave the students the opportunity to consider their own aptitudes and preferences for the workplace.
We are really grateful to Caroline John, STEM Manager, Graphic Science; Lucy Ackland, Design and Development Engineer, Renishaw; Alicia Gonzalez Buelga, Research Engineer, University of Bristol; Susie Jutsum, Geotechnical Engineer, Tony Gee; and Maggie Davis, IT Support Specialist, Tata Consultancy.

Students will follow up this event with a visit to the Skills Show at the NEC Birmingham in November.  Thanks to our careers adviser Mrs Sarah Beeton and to Head of Progress Mrs Haywood for organising this event.

The students returned to school dressed very smartly.  I have had numerous comments about this from staff, parents and members of the public and I am very grateful for all the work done by parents and carers to achieve this outcome.  Thank you.

Our dedicatory Masses for the start of the new school year went extremely well.  |Our chaplain, Mandy Baker, and Fr Kevin prepared and led the liturgy expertly, the music was splendid, and behaviour and focus were of the highest standard.

Our A-level results in the summer were good, and were very similar to last year’s.  Changes to GCSEs and to the way the school’s success is measured make  us look less good overall, though in each department pass rates and overall success rates remained high.   One of the issues which affected us was in science where, although most students take ‘double science’, quite a number of our students take a single science to ensure they move on from year 11 with a C grade or better in science – an important qualification – but this process has cost us in the final analysis.  We have remedied this for future years.

Mrs Layhe and I have planned a visit to St Paul’s RC School in Sunbury-on-Thames, Middlesex, on the 19th October.  This is a Catholic comprehensive which in theory should be similar to ours (admittedly in a different part of the country and without grammar schools) but which has achieved higher results (84% A*-C in GCSE).  We need to see what they are doing!

As you are all aware, our summer holidays were dominated by buses.  There were some teething problems, in September, with some routes and with the provision of adequate buses but these have largely been resolved.  There is I think one key route which has not been sweetly replaced and that is one that would run through Stonehouse, Eastington and Haresfield.  We are trying to put on an extra bus serving Stroud via those destinations. 

Please do not be shy in applying for free travel.  Families on low incomes (as well as families who live more than three miles away from the school but where we are their nearest school) are entitled to free transport.

We also installed new gates.  The electronic gates have made the school safer.  They have, it is true, created work for the receptionists, and infuriated sixth-formers who are not allowed out during the day.  The gates were introduced to make the school safer between 9 and 4.  I believe this is important.

I was getting increasingly concerned by the numbers of sixth-formers who were registering in the morning and then piling into one another’s cars to drive off.  The register said they were here but they were not;  they were expected in lessons, but they often came back too late.  I am concerned about the safety of cars filled with sixth-formers, I am concerned that parents may not have given formal permission for under-18s to drive off in this way.  It would be good to think that we can return to this privilege and allow sixth-formers to manage their time freely, but in order to achieve the level of confidence in their behaviour which that requires, we must draw a line firmly now and insist on a different work ethic in the sixth-form.  Study periods are periods for study whenever they fall and sixth-formers need, in order to compete for jobs and university places, to prioritise study during school hours, and beyond.  Some sixth-formers have definitely returned to St Peter’s looking forward to jaunts out in friends’ cars to fast-food restaurants.  I want that to stop.  It is dangerous and I do think that parents are not all fully aware of where their children are, nor what they are doing.    Some local schools allow free egress to sixth-formers and some do not; we need to draw a line firmly before we start deciding on privileges.

I note that attendance in my own sixthform classes has been about 98% with one absence due to illness.  This is a very marked difference from last year!

Our new head of sixth, Mrs Pearce, has made an excellent start to the year with tighter procedures and a clear vision for improving standards in the sixth-form.  Recruitment to the sixth-form was good, with over 450 students overall, and retention so far is high.

We welcomed a number of new staff to the school in September:  Mrs Farrelly in the business studies and economics department;  Mrs Frampton to teach on the health course, with Mrs Pearce; Mr Versaci the new teacher in charge of business and economics.  Mr Clayfield, Mr Fox-Smith, Mrs Garner, Dr Piercy, Mr Morrison and Mrs Stephen all joined the science department.  Miss Foley joined the modern foreign languages department, Miss Graves the design technology department (as maternity cover for Mrs Lawton),  Miss Ridout art, and Miss Gilbert RE.  Mrs Knapton is our new library assistant, Mr Bateman works as a TA in the drama department, and Mrs Szoke has joined the maths department.  Mrs Lee is our new head of maths.  She has already been working closely with Mr McAteer, Ms Lally and Mrs Melton to ensure that the department can continue its excellent progress.

Since September, we have appointed Jacinta Norton to teach RE for Mrs Eakin who has asked for unpaid leave while she fully regains her health and well-being; Mr James Dart to English as maternity cover for Emma Hilliam; Mr Liam Gittins and Mr Paul Donovan as TAs, all starting immediately.  Mrs Wendy Briggs will start work as in the maths department, from January.

At the beginning of the half-term Mrs Gittins and Mrs Layhe are joining the diocesan headteachers’ conference in Rome and are scheduled for an audience with Pope Francis first thing in the morning.  I hope his blessing of our school will remain with us for the years to come.

When we return after half-term, we come back on the Tuesday.  Please avoid the temptation to come back on the Monday! 

Tuesday is All Saints’ Day and a holyday of obligation, so there will be Masses in the morning, during period 2 for some pupils, and during period 3 for others.  Parents and carers are most welcome.  These Masses will take place in the Sports Barn, which is not the warmest place in early November.  Students (and all who come) are encouraged to wear warm coats.  I know that ‘All Saints’ is a popular clothes shop these days and I have seen some of their clothes.  They may not be suitable.

Philip Rush