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True Grit

The Department for Education has launched an award for the best character education in schools (https://www.gov.uk/government/news/dfe-character-awards-application-window-now-open). 
I am tempted to enter Birkdale just to see what happens.  Despite the well-meaning success criteria set out on the entry page I think that objectively choosing a worthy winner may be tricky.  Perhaps mindful of this the DfE have given organisations only 23 days to enter although a £15000 cheque is not to be sniffed at so if I find an idle few minutes …

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Appeal? Might as well

The revelation that the number of individual enquires about GCSE and A level results rose by 48%, this year compared to 2013, with a 42% rise in the number of grades changed, over the same period, comes as no surprise to me.  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-30449095

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Full Circle

One of the few benefits of advancing age is that the duration of my teaching experience is now comfortably greater than the time needed for educational reforms to be introduced, reviewed and reversed.  Michael Gove has long since been banished from public view to be replaced by the more appealing and conciliatory Nicky Morgan but the reforms of A level lurch onwards like a lorry stuck in gear.

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Choosing a University

The university application round is in full swing; at Birkdale over half of our Upper Sixth students have now made an application with most of the rest to be completed over the next couple of weeks. 
The teaching staff involved with the Sixth Form work incredibly hard to offer individual advice and support, suggesting courses to uncertain students, reading endless drafts of personal statements and synthesising dozens of teacher comments to craft the perfect school reference, cunningly designed to tempt even the most hard-bitten of university admissions tutors into offering a sought-after spot on a competitive course to an aspirational applicant.

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Myth Busting

I talk to a huge number of prospective parents at this time of year as families ponder the choice of secondary schools for their sons and daughters to enter next September.  I usually have the opportunity to dispel at least one myth about Birkdale and perhaps about independent schools in general; below is the complete set of unwarranted misconceptions that recur regularly.

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Numbers and Stories

The usual clichés of the exam season are all too apparent; pictures of smiling, blond female (usually) students, brandishing pieces of paper of uncertain provenance and shrieking with delight at seemingly having gained huge numbers of A* grades, festoon the newspapers and websites.  On the other hand the small reduction in the percentage of top grades awarded this year has dimmed the volume of the ritual chanting of ‘it was much harder in my day’ and the swing towards students taking more traditional, facilitating A level subjects has muted the customary chorus of ‘media studies’ jibes.

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Open Access

A new report by the Social Market Foundation for the Sutton Trust, a well-respected charity with interests in social mobility and education, caught my eye last week (http://www.suttontrust.com/news/news/private-school-premium-of-194000-revealed-in-new-report/ ).
The report finds that children who attend an independent school will earn £194,000 more on average between the ages of 26 and 42 than their state-educated peers.  Clearly, this premium is also affected by family background and by educational achievement early in life, but after correcting for these factors the study found that the gap in earnings persisted at just under £60,000.

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Speaking to parents of students departing from the Upper Sixth is a fascinating experience.  For some of the parents it is quite a reflective and poignant moment as they have been associated with Birkdale for many years; the ending of the annual rituals of the start and end of term, sports matches, concerts, parents’ evenings, grades and reports and the social side of school life produces a real sense of the end of an era.  Parents often comment on the confidence that Birkdale has given their son or daughter as well as on the good academic results, happy community and broad extra-curricular opportunities.

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Creative Subjects

One of the highlights of this stage of the academic cycle is seeing the tangible results of a year’s worth of effort by students in the creative subjects.  Dazzling exhibitions in Art and in Design & Technology, together with public examination performances in Drama and recitals in Music, have reminded the entire school community how much talent and time go into achieving success in these subjects.

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Grading Exams

Details about the new GCSE and A level courses continue to trickle out (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-26955452); most Head Teachers are rather hoping that the syllabuses will be released well before rather than just before their staff have to begin teaching the courses.  At GCSE, where the changes are likely to be more radical, new courses in Mathematics, English Language and English Literature are due to begin in September 2015 with most other subjects (including the Sciences which were originally part of the ‘pioneer’ group)  scheduled to start in September 2016 or even 2017.  The new courses will be graded from 9 to 1 (9 being the best and allowing for the future introduction of a ‘10’ should grade inflation take-off).

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Charitable Giving

Schools have many duties to their students.  One obligation would be to help them understand the lives of other human beings in different places and in different cultures across the world.  Supporting international charities, and highlighting the lifestyles and problems experienced by other people, is one way of achieving this.  There is, however, a danger, familiar to most big charities, of inducing a sense of hopelessness and fatigue in their donors through emphasising the size of the problems and over-active campaigning.  Some days we are bombarded by images of devastated natural environments, starving children and injured people escaping from war zones and challenged by mind-numbing statistics suggesting yet further disasters.  The cumulative effect of all this woe can easily backfire, persuading people that the problems are so huge that there is no point in them even trying to influence the outcome rather than motivating them to action. 

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Children's Hospital Charity