From our Deputy Head: Academic: An end of year reflection
It seems odd to start a review with a reflection of my own time at St Mary’s, particularly as I want to dedicate this to the fact that much of what happens that is excellent is student led and student focused, but starting as Deputy Head Academic in September was both wonderful and frightening all at once.
Wonderful in that one of the first opportunities I got to interact with the students on a one-to-one level was at the brilliant EPQ marketplace, where students presented their diverse ideas for their extended projects, from children’s books to reviews of the changes of lifestyle that indigenous populations face. The students were experts in their own academic area and presented not only interesting but insightful reports of their process and outcome. Frightening because, how does one go on to build upon this as a senior leader?!
When reflecting on the year, what has struck me is what progress educationally St Mary’s is making.
Our staff and students embrace not only the traditional approach of education systems, but also many of the modern and forward-thinking aspects that the OECD’s Future of Education and Skills 2030 asks of education in general.
High Performance Learning
Part of the educational ecosystem that this vision requires is that in schools there is a shared responsibility for learning, where specifically students learn to be responsible for their own learning. Our reaccreditation as an HPL World Class school, last summer, sits comfortably alongside this. The key pillar of the HPL philosophy is the idea 'with students not to them', through a system of values and attributes that improve all learning, not just the ability to complete a sum or précis a historical document. Added to this is the desire to value not only outcomes but also process – something our outstanding EPQ programme delivers in buckets – and with the pillar of enquiry-based learning in the HPL philosophy we try to encourage our students to enjoy the journey as well as the destination.
Another future skill that we should want to develop is that schools should be actively participating with both student agency and co-agency, and with regards to this the role that student voice plays at St Mary’s is very important. From the macro scale of an excellent proactive body of prefects and vocal student council to the micro scale of focus on oracy in the classroom this year, the school is committed to improving how students can communicate and contribute to the life at St Mary’s.
Two such excellent student-led initiatives have been the Key Stage 3 and 4 debating clubs, organised by two outgoing Year 13 prefects, Amelie A. and Vanya C. These clubs had fixtures against local schools as well as an internal competition. The second initiative, fronted by the two incoming Year 12 Academic Prefects, Victoria G. and Reem S., is the STEP (Share, Teach, Empower, Progress) lecture series in which Sixth Form students give younger year group assemblies, presenting ideas from etymology to forensic pathology.
I am sure all my colleagues would love learning for learning’s sake, but there are also results to consider, and what the outcomes of the summer exams show is that both these ideas fit together in a successful school.
The results, the first year back after the trials-and-tribulations of two years of CAGs and TAGs, were outstanding. The headline figures were that 66% of all GCSE results were Grade 7 or above (Grade A, in old money) and at A Levels 72% of all results were Grade B and above. These reflect a cohort who have enjoyed education, have been helped to find motivation and who have flourished at St Mary’s.
St Mary’s continues to be at the forefront of educational ideas, with a sound foundation in traditional teaching and learning; it is a school which is producing the types of students who will shape the world to come. It is a school and community at which, after the first year of working, I am proud to be a member.
Dr Paddy Wallace, Deputy Head: Academic
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