06/11/2016

The best years of your lives... when learning gets even better!

Appropriately, that little piece of self-indulgent Eighties Kitsch comes from 1982. A year when I was in what was, in those 'best' days, known as the Lower Sixth. That's Year 12 in modern parlance.

Appropriate, because at the start of half term I went to a school reunion. A reunion for all those students of Little Heath School in Reading who either left at the end of the 5th Year (old money again - Year 11 to readers under 30) in 1981 or, in most cases, stayed on into Sixth Form, leaving after A Levels in 1983. So 1982 is a great - median  - year in which anchor reflections on what is so special about the uniquely unifying experience of school in general, and the Sixth Form in particular.

I'm very proud to be a 'Little Heathen'! Like Park House mine was an unashamedly comprehensive school, inclusively serving its local community.

We had a great night. A wonderful night. Reminiscing.

Two reflections follow from it.

Firstly, that good schools, both then and now, unite people. If at first, arbitrarily!

I've always thought it brilliant that every September, as a result of the geographical accident of families living in particular housing estates, roads or villages which just happen to form the catchment area for a secondary school, a new and vibrant community of young people is randomly created. Forty years after my own experience, I have the annual privilege of looking out over a sea of - often initially apprehensive - eleven-year-old faces on their first day at 'big school'. I talk to them about their collective future as a unique community that, together, has the collective potential to do and achieve anything and everything it wants to. And as individuals within that community I also ask them to look at the person now sitting next to them in the hall; they may already be their best friend from primary school; they may be person they have never seen before. In either case, it doesn't matter. They may stay - or become - a friend for life. Because of a collective community experience - with its most memorable and, sometimes, cringeworthy forgettable (!) of moments - school will remain a defining bond that unites in ways that will extend way beyond the final time through the gates.

So, I hope that many members of the new Year 7 who started at Park House in September, like a group of now fifty-something 'First Years' who started Little Heath in the legendary long, hot summer of 1976, meet up in a pub somewhere in Newbury in 40 years time and talk about wonderful, shared experiences together as if they were only yesterday. That'd be in 2056. Wow.

Secondly, that personally and now professionally, staying on into the Sixth Form in a great school, where you've already had great experiences is a fantastic thing to do. Not just for the sake of it; or for social reasons. But because, as we are now rightly saying about our own Sixth Form here, it genuinely is somewhere where the learning does get even better...

Sixth Form Advert

Why?

Over my thirty years in teaching I've been  lucky enough to work in every form of secondary education: the 11-16 school, the Sixth Form College and the 'through' 11-18 school with its own Sixth Form. A school like the one I went to. A school like Park House.

On the basis of that experience, I genuinely have no doubt that for the vast majority of students, schools with Sixth Forms offer the most effective opportunities for successful post-16 study.

They do so because they of course offer the new and exciting learning challenges associated with more independent Advanced Level study... but do so within the established structures and frameworks that only school can provide in relation to continuity of support, guidance and the close and personal monitoring of individual progress.  To put it simply, you are still known and valued as a rounded individual, rather than someone that just turns up to sets of lessons in three or four subject areas and the goes home again. You are still part - a very important part - of a community.

PH6 Common Room

And our Sixth Form is of course both physically and philosophically at the very heart of the wider school community. Sixth formers are students that younger students aspire to be. They set the example; they set the tone; they create the culture…

In their attitudes...
In their behaviour...
In their work in supporting students lower down the school...
And above all in their achievements.

And nothing beats celebrating those achievements together...

Clare Balding Prize Giving Park House School
Kath Grainger Prize Giving Park House School
Nicola Adams Prize Giving Park House School

You know, these wonderful group photos remind me of something...

Derek Peaple school photo


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