New School Website

I am delighted to see the arrival of our new school website.  This has been many months in both the planning and the building but is now ready for us to launch.  We hope that all who use it will find it both useful and interesting.

As a school we have always made a great deal of use of social media in celebrating the success of our students, promoting the School and in passing on relevant information to all in the school community.  Our new website will collate all of this content in one place and each time we update the social media feeds, it will also automatically update the website.  This means that even on a day like today when we have had sports day we can take some pictures and these can be picked up immediately by the new website and be displayed to the world.

We are very keen indeed to receive feedback on this new site.  Do tell us what you like or don’t like and if you come across anything that does not work or that has inaccuracies please email hm@nottinghamhigh.co.uk and we will fix it.  We will also do a draw from all the feedback we get for a prize of a bottle of champagne to encourage you to get in touch.

In terms of navigating the new site please use either the menu bar at the top of the home page or for a more detailed index of the site the site map button at the foot of the page.  You can then find your way to the relevant parts of the School.

I would like to thank our Marketing Manager Amy Chambers for all the hard work she has put in to get the website to this stage.  This has been a huge task but one that she has carried out with distinction.

Further content will be added in the coming weeks as we tell the story of the summer term as it unfolds.  We have had a fantastic start to the term with sports day in the senior school today and I am looking forward to the Junior School one this Friday.  There is much to look forward to in the coming weeks.

Exam pressures

As we move into the Summer Term and the peak season for public examinations we are very aware as a school of the importance of supporting our students through this stressful time.  In my view, key to this is a successful partnership of parents, pupils and teachers.  It is very easy for us as adults to under-estimate the pressures that young people are under.  Much of this pressure actually emanates from adults – from parents who are understandably anxious to want their children to do their best and from schools who are under constant monitoring by external bodies such as OFSTED.  Exams these days are high stakes and come thick and fast over the final three years of any students school career.

So how can we help children cope with the many pressures?  In the main it is down to the School to ensure that pupils are as well-prepared as possible for the forthcoming exams.  Teachers in my own school, like in so many others, put on regular lunchtime clinic sessions and also run occasional sessions in the holidays just to ensure that we are building the confidence of our students.  Of course, the students themselves must buy into all this both by turning up to these extra sessions but also by working their way through a systematic programme of revision.  It can help if students discuss their revision plans with their pastoral staff so that they can learn how best to structure such revision and to check that it is realistic in its demands on a daily basis.  It is very important that there are regular gaps for some time off, that it allows for the fact that teenagers like (and need) to sleep in during school holiday periods and that there is time for some fresh air and exercise by way of balance.

Parents need to tread carefully at exam time.  We are as parents very well aware of just how important public examinations are but at this stressful time of the year we need to be there really just to keep morale up, to help in any ways that our children need and to remain calm.  In my experience adding to the pressures felt by teenage children is rarely helpful.  However, for some children it can help if you can work with them to devise a timetable for their revision, to help test them on some of the material and to make endless snacks to keep their morale up.  It is important for all adults to realise that children may well not work most effectively copying the way that you used to revise for your exams.  Some children really will work harder if they have music on, they are used to both working and keeping on top of their social media profiles and these are probably battles not best fought at exam time.

Parents though must also be realistic.  It is rare that students out-perform expectations at exam times.  They will, all being well, receive the grade that they deserve but this will not be a top grade in every case.  If parents feel that their children are under undue levels of pressure they should always alert the School – sometimes sensible advice is best dispensed by those you are not related to!  Above all, parents must not give any impression that their love for their child is in any way dependent on performance.  This really is a time to praise their effort rather than their attainment.  It is important that children are not placed under any greater strain by their parents.  You can best help by encouraging them to laugh, to smile, to take exercise, to rest and to stick to their plan which hopefully you can have agreed with them in advance.  Buying some chocolate can also help! It does not help to keep questioning the number of hours they are doing, nor to be suggesting that others are doing more work or worst of all that you worked much harder for your own exams.

Students though must also open up at this important time.  If they are worried about how things are going they need to talk to their parents or to their teachers at school.  Many schools have excellent counselling services that they can also draw upon.  Students in my experience are very well aware of how important the exams are but are sometimes daunted by the level of expectations that they face.  Talking to a caring adult can certainly help and yet we all find it difficult to ask for help when we are struggling.  This is why all adults have a duty of care to keep an eye on things and to initiate these conversations.

In the end it is almost always the case that most students gain the results that their efforts over the course that they have studied deserve.  There is a long summer holiday to look forward to so the next two months or so must be just seen as a period to give yourself every chance of success.  Sporting analogies can help here – the revision must be seen as the inevitable training before the big match/race – very necessary, sometimes painful but important in giving yourself the best chance in the main event.  If you are well-prepared, well-rested and have been able with parental support to retain a sense of perspective about it all you will likely fulfil your potential.  If, on the other hand, you do no training/revision and just turn up and hope for the best it is likely to end in disappointment.

I wish all those studying for their exams all the very best.  To all the parents reading please try to remain calm and concentrate on keeping your child in a very positive frame of mind and finally a huge thank you to all the teachers who give so freely of their time to support every stage of this process and who so often go the extra mile in helping out even their most challenging students.  Together we can all do this….

Independent Schools in Crisis?

Recently the Times ran a front page article suggesting that independent schools across the country are in crisis. This came as a huge surprise to me as the head of Nottingham High School as we have just had record numbers sit for entry next September to our school.  Many more families are currently expressing interest in independent education as the austerity cuts start to hit state education and with ever-growing class sizes. In fact, numbers of pupils at UK independent schools has never been higher and overall across all independent schools our exam results remain unparalleled. Nationally, nearly a third of pupils received A or A*s at GCSE in 2015 compared with just 7% in state schools (in fact the figure for the High School in recent years is just shy of 80%), and half of A Level entries were awarded A or A*, again a picture more than matched in most years by the High School.  At A Level pupils are four times more likely to achieve one top grade than in state-maintained schools.

Commentators often bemoan the fact that independent schools are so good that our pupils dominate the most successful universities and careers. How can this be when we are busy failing and going out of business?

Lord Lucas, the owner of the Good Schools Guide, is correct in saying that the best state schools are improving, but that improvement is not across the board. Many parents are not able to find a state school of the standard they want for their child and independent schools offer consistent excellence in teaching, co-curricular activities and preparation for university. Notably, 99.7% of them also work in partnership with state schools to increase opportunities for all pupils.

I have to say though that I find this constant sniping to suggest that there is a ‘battle’ between state and independent schools very distasteful.  We work with many schools across the city in a spirit of collaboration which both our own pupils and many in city schools benefit from greatly.  We open many of our sporting events and facilities to students across the city.  We have a programme whereby one of our coaches provides cricket training in city primary schools.  We support all of the local city championships in many sports and help run some of these.  We invite primary aged children in to our school for a wide variety of educational experiences.  I welcome the improvements that we are seeing in education across the city.  Yes, this increases our competition but that is no bad thing as it removes complacency and after all anyone who believes in the power of a good education must surely want this to spread beyond their own school.  I want education in Nottingham to be superb for all children and we stand prepared to help in any ways we can.

There is often lazy journalism that equates all independent schools with privilege.  This too is nonsense.  We had nearly 100 families this year apply for bursary places at our school.  We will be supporting with completely free places a good number of children from some of the most deprived areas of the city.  The parents of these children can see beyond the terminology of battles and elitism to strive to give their children the best possible opportunity.  We are probably more diverse than some of the state schools in the leafier suburbs.

I urge schools of all types to work together to give the young people of this generation the best possible education.  We need schools to meet the needs of all children and with rising birth-rates and smaller budgets there is more need than ever for schools to work together creatively and collaboratively.  I do not want to ‘battle’ with local state schools, I want to reach out to them to see how we can work together to improve education in all of our schools.  I am certain that many state school heads would want the same.

A few more interesting statistics (with thanks for these to HMC, the association for the Heads of leading independent schools):

 

Exam results

  • A-level.  In 2015, of all A*/A grades achieved, 49% were in independent schools, compared to 26% nationally.
  • A-level.  Independent school pupils are four times more likely to achieve at least one top grade than state school pupils.
  • GSCE.  In 2015, one third of independent school entries were awarded A*, compared to 7% nationally.

Teachers’ subject expertise

  • Oxbridge graduates.  Since 2003, 6,000 state school secondary teachers have been appointed with Oxbridge degrees (increasing the proportion in the state school workforce from 3% to 5%). The equivalent workforce figure for independent schools is stable at c.17%.

Attainment value added

  • Sixth form. In the sixth form, DFE figures show that 37% of state schools add value compared to 94% of independent schools.
  • Sixth form.  Across all sixth forms the added value average for independent schools is 0.16 and that for state schools -0.09.
  • 16-year-olds.  New research from Durham University shows that once prior attainment, socio-economic background and gender are taken into account, pupils aged 16 in independent schools have gained the equivalent of two additional years of schooling compared to their state school peers.

University entry

  • Russell Group access.  Among children born in 1970 those attending independent schools were c.2.5 times more likely to gain a degree from a Russell group university than their state school peers with the same A-level results.
  • Overall prospects.  2015 was the best-ever year for university entry for schools in independent schools.
  • Offer rates.  The offer rate for university applicants from top independent schools has increased steadily since 2011 and outpaced the equivalent figures state schools.
  • Degree classifications.  82% of independent school pupils gain a First or 2:1 degree compared to 73% of state school students.

Strategically important subjects

  • Maths and science.  Independent school candidates comprise one fifth of all A-level entries but achieve nearly one third of all A* grades.
  • Modern Foreign Languages (MFL). In 2015, 24% of such entries came from independent school candidates who, between them, secured 42% of the A* grades.
  • MFL.  In 2015, independent school pupils were five times more likely to apply to university for MFL than all UCAS applicants combined.

Sport music and drama

  • Overall achievement in sport.  Sir Michael Wilshaw commented recently that ‘overall, independent schools are producing far more elite athletes across a range of sports than we would expect… This indicates that these schools are more effective at recognising, supporting and nurturing sporting talent than maintained schools and academies’.
  • Olympians. 41% of London 2012 medallists were from independent schools.
  • Rugby.  Ofsted reports 61% of premiership players and 20 members of England’s 31-man 2015 Rugby World Cup squad came from independent schools.
  • Sports fields.  The Conservatives sold off 10,000 state school playing fields during 1979-97. Labour added a further 200 to this total between 1997 and 2010.

Soft skills

  • Assisted Places holders.  Sutton Trust research into assisted places holders (1980-97) has found that these pupils displayed much more self-discipline, self-reliance, ambition, curiosity, communication skills, cultural sophistication and self-confidence than their state school peers with similar levels of attainment. Nottingham High School was fully involved in this scheme.

Social Mobility

  • Parental profile.   40% of independent school pupils’ parents did not themselves go to an independent school.
  • Ethnic minorities.  29% of pupils at independent schools are from ethnic minorities – more than the average across the state sector.

Salaries added value

  • First 36 months of employment.  When social and income background, prior attainment, ethnicity and region are accounted for, independent school pupils achieve a 6.8% (£1,500) salary premium over their state school peers.

Career-long earnings.  When family background and prior educational attainment are allowed for, independent school pupils will have earned £58,000 more than their state school peers by the age of 42.

Women in Science

An organisation called WISE inspires girls and women to study and build careers using science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). They have an aim of getting 1 million more women to work in these areas.   At Nottingham High School we have a long tradition of excellence in these STEM subjects and so in planning for our move to co-education we were incredibly keen that the girls we recruited were encouraged to study these subjects. It is often said by those that support single sex education for girls that girls are more likely to study Sciences in single-sex schools. Such figures though have their limitations. In constructing them what is being compared is the number of girls studying science in single-sex independent schools with those girls studying science in all schools, state and maintained. A fairer test would be to compare the numbers of girls studying science in co-educational independent schools with single-sex independent schools. Here I would contend there would be a very different picture.

Last summer we recruited 41 girls into our Sixth Form. 46% of our new female students are studying Maths and at least one other science. This bears favourable comparison with single-sex girls schools across our region. 63% of our girls are studying at least one science; 61% of them are studying Maths and a total of 78% are doing Maths or at least one Science subject. We have 17% of our girls studying Further Maths – again a figure that few single-sex schools can challenge. 22% of girls are studying Physics. We are very proud of these figures and if you are considering where to study in the Sixth Form do look at each school’s published results for previous years so that you can work out the relevant statistics for yourselves. Just take the number studying any one subject and divide by the total number of students to work out your own school’s figures. What is also very interesting is that across almost all of our most popular subjects the percentages of girls and boys opting for each one is very similar – in other words there does not seem to be any great gender bias in how our students are selecting their subjects.

Key to our philosophy of becoming a co-educational school is our desire to become the strongest academic school in the region. For us to do this we have to be strong in all subjects and the Science subjects have always been a key strength here at the High School. We strongly believe that many girls are joining us because we are so strong in many of our subjects including the Sciences. I am already aware that a good number of our girls are hoping to study Medicine at university. Again our success in preparing students to read Medicine is good – 23 have gained places across the past two years, again this is often a figure that can be gleaned from school websites or lists of leavers’ destinations by way of comparison. It is right that at NHS we have a strong record of getting students in to work in the NHS!

We believe passionately like WISE that girls should be encouraged to take up careers in the important areas of Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths. The number studying Further Maths in any school can often be seen as a sign of how strong the school is academically – we have 2 sets of students across Year12 doing this subject (24 students in total).

Thus, please do not believe the lazy stereotypes that suggest that girls will be put off studying Science and Maths in co-educational schools. Strong academic schools will work hard to ensure that both boys and girls pursue careers in these areas and the fact that both genders are studying alongside each other will make it so much easier for them both to move into real world situations once they leave school. We have a number of strong female role models teaching Science in our school. We are confident that girls who study Science with us will be well-prepared to embark on scientific careers and that by studying alongside so many others studying such subjects they will be stretched to achieve. Girls who join us will be given the confidence and encouragement to seriously consider these careers areas. Through Futurewise we undertake career profiling with all of our students so that we can guide them towards potential career areas where they will thrive and such guidance is not defined by gender. This focus on each individual allows us to show each student what they might achieve and encourages them to think beyond any lazy stereotyping.

In conclusion, we believe that co-education opens doors rather than closes them, it allows students to confront stereotypes and enables us to both identify potential and then deliver on it. Great schools are defined not by the gender of their students though but by the quality of their teaching and their results. We have a proud record in delivering excellence and it is this we want to build on in the future. We believe in the goals of WISE and are certainly doing our part in supporting girls into scientific careers.

Back to School – establishing good habits

At this stage of the year our shops are full of Back to School adverts endeavouring to persuade parents to buy a wide range of products to support their child’s education in the forthcoming year. Whilst some of these are of dubious benefit there are clearly some essentials of equipment and uniform that will need to be refreshed.

 

However, I do think that there are some other things that can be done to make the transition back into school much smoother for any secondary aged child. In reviewing reports over many years I believe that it is possible to identify some of the basic organisational skills that every pupil returning to school in September can work on.

 

One of the first things I do when reviewing a report with a child is to check that they have actually read it and can remember what it says at the start of the new year. Teachers will have given plenty of helpful advice at the end of the previous term so encourage your child to go back through their report and make a note of this advice. Make sure that they have followed up on any specifics and talk to them as to how they will go about tackling any remaining issues. Review this again after the first month of the new term. Try to put in place at home the support they need to tackle these areas of relative weakness, encourage your child to speak to their new teacher for help. This does not have to be done in front of the whole class but quietly in a break-time.

 

Another feature of disorganised students is the state of their school bags. Many return in September having at least cleared out the junk that inevitably accumulates (and many return with new bags) but here I feel that parents can help students to establish good habits. The most helpful tip is for them to have some sort of folder for each subject so that their exercise and text books can be quickly found in advance of a lesson and so that they always have with them what they need to learn effectively. If they work primarily on file paper encourage them to only carry around with them the past month’s work and keep the rest at home. There is nothing worse than a lost file part way through the year. Encourage them to keep an index of each file. Make sure that any worksheets are filed at the end of each week rather than being left to accumulate in a school bag. Similarly ensure that your child has somewhere where they can effectively write down any homework so that they remember it once home. Once homework is completed it should be put in the brightest coloured file they can find so that when they open their bag the next day it can be easily found and handed in. There are many electronic list apps which can be downloaded on to their phones, my favourite is one called Wunderlist. However, they record their homework it should be done consistently and as parents you can support this effort by checking that it is always completed.

 

Another task for the start of the new term is to ensure that they have somewhere they can effectively do any homework. This does not have to be in their own room but wherever the space is it does need to be clear of clutter. I have no issues with students listening to music as they work but it is clearly better if potential distractions are kept to a minimum. Parents could also usefully sit down with their children to work out how best to fit any homework into their weekly schedules. We all know from learning to drive that habitual practice of basic skills eventually allows us to undertake a task with ease and the same is true with school work. Establish good habits early and these will stay with them for life. Remember though as parents that children will not always work in the way that you did when you were at school.

 

So as children go back to school this year look beyond the Back to School offers and instead ensure that you have helped your child with some of the basics which cost very little but which will go a long way to laying strong foundations for future success. One final plea though on behalf of schools everywhere do please ensure that all your child’s belongings and uniform have their name on – so much lost property just can’t be returned simply because it is not named and this is just such a waste of money for all parents.