Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Pleasure, Disappointment and a Sense of Trepidation

As I sit and write this before our second Open Evening, I have mixed feelings about a range of things: pleasure, disappointment and a sense of trepidation.

Our students continue to amaze me with their enthusiasm, sense of responsibility and effervescence.  Yesterday, I was delighted to learn that once again our netball team have been crowned County Champions (against the odds, on this occasion, with injuries to two key players).  I feel incredibly proud and want to congratulate the girls on achieving this outstanding feat.  I am absolutely delighted and know how hard they have worked in training and as a team.  Very well done.

Last night Mike Rogerson and I were present at the Vice-Chancellor's Celebration Event at the University of Hull.  We saw two of our former students receiving the Vice- Chancellor's Scholarship of £27,000 each.  I am certain that this will have a transformational effect on the students concerned and I am so pleased for them as they are both so deserving.

Positive comments about our students, which are unsolicited and unexpected, always make my day.  Whilst at the University, the Dean of the Health Faculty and the Pro-Vice Chancellor came over to me to tell me how brilliant our students and staff had been the previous night, when they attended an evening talk by a renowned geneticist.  I was thrilled to learn that the students and staff had been so "engaging, enthusiastic and enquiring".  Why am I not surprised?

On Monday, after the "Last Post" to commemorate Remembrance Day, once again the response of the whole College community was excellent.  I could have heard a "pin drop" as a mark of respect during the silence and I was particularly delighted with a round of applause for our student who played the cornet.

My pleasure in popping into lessons this morning and witnessing the outstanding learning taking place knows no bounds.  This is what Wyke Sixth Form College is about and I am so thrilled to be a part of this community.

Some of our PE students and staff returned from their week in Wales earlier in the term.  I believe that this was hugely successful and has had a huge influence on how they learn, work and support each other in achieving their goals.

Last week, like many of you, I too watched in amazement at President Obama's victory for the second term in the USA through the "mobilisation of the young and disadvantaged" as well as women.  I stayed up until 3.00 a.m. and was feeling quite smug until our Head of Social Science Faculty and 'political Guru' informed me that he had been up all night.  Wow!

So what am I disappointed with?  I guess the dismal performance of my beloved Leeds United, and the recent announcement that the Government had made the decision, "after consultation", that January exams for AS and A2 level will be scrapped.  Isn't it interesting that almost all of my colleagues and teacher friends had predicted that this would happen, almost a year ago, despite responding to the "consultation"?  As Bob Dylan would say in Ballad of a Thin Man,

            "Because something is happening here
            But you don't know what it is
            Do you, Mister Jones?"

So, what about trepidation?  I guess, without any doubt, being "asked" (press-ganged) to take part in the Gangnam Style promotional video next week.  I am really not sure whether it will be promotional or a humiliation.

I hope the Open Evening is a success and have a great month.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

A Brilliant Start to the Year

The new academic year is well underway and already planning has begun for the new Open Evenings, Parents' Evenings, Flyers' Evenings….Staff are incredibly busy ensuring that students are settled, have begun to work hard and are enjoying their experience at Wyke Sixth Form College.
I would like to outline our successes:
  • 99.9% pass rate at A2 level (only one student in one subject) out of nearly 1200 entries.
  • 94.7% pass rate at AS level with over 2500 entries.
  • At BTEC, out of 284 entries there were 152 distinctions or distinction*.
  • In the EPQ, 28 out of 45 students achieved an A*or A.
More recently, we have learned that two of our students from Wyke have received the Hull University Vice Chancellor's Award (worth £27,000 each); one student has been selected for the Helena Kennedy Award, and one of our existing A2 students has received the Student Award for International Understanding.
What a brilliant start to the year!  Our best set of results and with a record enrolment we have every reason to be very optimistic.
The following lyrics from Bobby Dylan come to mind:
"How many times must a man look up
Before he can see the sky?
Yes, 'n' how many ears must one man have
Before he can hear people cry?
Yes, ‘n’ how many times can a man turn his head
Pretending he just doesn't see?
The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind,
The answer is blowing in the wind."
With so many outstanding students at our College, our task is to ensure that you do reach for the sky, that we listen to you and we support and observe you going on to greater things.
            *           *           *           *           *           *           *           *           *           *
This is also the time when students in Year 11 begin to think about their options for the next stage in their academic career.  I would urge all prospective students and parents to be mindful of the following:
  • Schools that refer to themselves as a School and Sixth Form College.  There are only two Sixth Form Colleges in Hull and only 92 in the United Kingdom.  All of the sixth form colleges are members of the Sixth Form Colleges' Forum.
  • Research from the University of Southampton found that a sixth form college student was 7.2% more likely to gain an A or an A* at A level than a teenager of similar ability at a school.  This supports the findings of a report by the National Audit Office which concluded that sixth form colleges outperform school sixth forms in most areas.
  • Be aware of Year 11 events that are planned which "accidentally" clash with our Open Evenings, interviews and Wyke Start activities.  Clashes on such important events require "purposeful planning".
  • Negative advice about other post-16 providers needs to be treated with suspicion unless the other provider has the "right to reply".
  • Ask about the AS achievement rates on every occasion.
            *           *           *           *           *           *           *           *           *           *
Finally, I am delighted about how you, our new students, have settled in and the enthusiasm and interest with which our students and parents have embraced the "Wyke" culture.  It is even better than the wonderful start made by my beloved Leeds.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Tremendous Effort and Commitment

The highlight of the summer must be the Olympic Games and the performance of team GB; their success; the way they conducted themselves, their humility and capacity to under-play their achievement.  I believe that they serve as outstanding role models and if we can only replicate their success to a small extent, we will have done well.

It is the end of my first year and the start of a new year.  I cannot help reflecting on many of the changes that have taken place at our college – some that are visible and others, behind the scenes.
The undoubted highlight has been the recent student success in the examinations which reflect their tremendous effort and the commitment of the staff.

Our college is an exceptional place to study, to develop intellectually, socially and to progress onto the next stage in our students’ careers.  We have had our best set of results:
·         99.9% pass rate at A2 level with 1082 entries
·         42%of our student achieving A*- B grades at A2
·         37 subjects with a 100% pass rate at A2 level
·         94.7% pass rate at AS level with 38% achieving grades A-B
·         At BTEC 152 students achieved at least one distinction or distinction star
·         On the Extended Project Qualification (EPQ), 68% (28/41) of students achieved an A*-A
These are an absolutely superb set of results and as the largest A level provider in Hull and East Riding, I am delighted by them.

At this time of year, most schools and colleges celebrate the success of their students and statistics abound.  Rightly, all of the organisations wish to portray their statistics in a way which shows them in the best light.  However, beware of being ‘duped’.  As Harold Wilson said, “…you have lies, damned lies and statistics,” or as my friend Bobby D said “ …you can fool some people all of the time and all of the people some of the time.  But you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.”

When these statistics are presented, ask yourself about the size of the cohort.  A 100% pass rate for a small number of students (50-60), becomes less impressive when compared to a large cohort like ours.  Furthermore, please look for the percentage of students achieving the top (A*-B) grades, the average points per candidate and the average points per entry.

A number of friends  and external colleagues have asked me why the results have improved and the only thing I can say is that they reflect the hard work of every one at the college, teaching and non-teaching; the focus in lessons; the tremendous support provided for the students; the revision classes at lunchtimes, evenings and during the holidays; the breakfast clubs; the extra-curricular provision; the outstanding facilities but most importantly, having the time to guide and talk to students as young adults and always having the highest expectations of them.  I believe that students rarely let you down.

I cannot help feeling a sense of excitement in anticipation of a new academic year and seeing enthusiastic, vibrant and conscientious students.  This must be what football teams and managers feel in anticipation of a new season.  Alas my beloved Leeds have had a mixed start but will have to strengthen the squad.  At Wyke SFC, we have a full and much stronger squad for 2012 – 2013.

Good Luck for the New Year.

Friday, 20 July 2012

An Exciting Time for Students

As I sit in my office reflecting on my first year as Principal, I cannot help thinking about what an exciting period 16-19 is in the life of our students.

Students come to Wyke from the security of their high schools and are naturally a little nervous and have some trepidation about the following:

1.         How will I fit in?
2.         Will I make friends easily?
3.         What should I wear?
4.         Where will I go during my free periods and with whom?
5.         How will I get to College in the depths of winter?
6.         Will I enjoy it as much as I did at my school?
7.         What will the quality of teaching be like?
8.         What are the results like and can I do all of the subjects that I want?
9.         How much extra work will I have to do?
10.       Where do most people go when they finish?

The last four questions are often the least important in September. 

These are natural questions and ones that should be asked.  In answer to all of these, I only need to refer back to the students who finished their AS levels about 3 weeks ago.  When they left, they were smiling, confident, mature young adults who were comfortable with themselves, looking forward to the holidays but also optimistic about their future at Wyke and beyond.  I could not help smiling to myself as a few of them said,

"You have a good summer too, Jay",

and one of them sidled up to me and said,

"… I've had a great year.  I wasn't too sure at first because the place is so big and there are so many students like me but I love this College and thanks." 

Wow!  It isn't often that I am speechless but….

It has been a really good year and I have really enjoyed being surrounded by so many enthusiastic, energetic, charismatic, caring, hard-working, conscientious people (colleagues and students) who are full of good ideas and positivity.  I am sorry about using so many superlatives but I cannot help it.  On occasions I have to pinch myself to remind myself that it is not a dream.

That is not to say that it has all been easy.  Sometimes the magnitude of the responsibility weighs upon me, particularly when there are difficult decisions to be made.  Ultimately, all of our work and efforts are judged by the quality of the results that you achieve, and whether you have reached your potential and are able to realise your dreams.  I can assure you that there has been a common purpose in enabling all of you to do extremely well. 

When I think about world events in the news: the Civil War in Syria; Barack Obama's struggle to match the monies raised by the Republican Party in the Presidential Elections; the Libor scandal with the Banks; the difficult marriage of the Coalition; the debacle of the security arrangements for the Olympics and G4S; the increase in the population of the UK; the flash floods in Japan; the plight of the farmers in the UK and their returns on milk production; they all fade into total insignificance in comparison to the publication of results on 16th August.  We wait with optimism and baited breath - almost as much as the proposed takeover of my beloved Leeds United and the start of the new season.

Bob Dylan's Dream

".… I wish, I wish, I wish in vain
That we could sit simply in that room again
10,000 dollars at the drop of a hat
I'd give it all gladly if our lives could be like that".

Have a great summer.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Talking of Success

This is the time in the academic calendar when the focus of our College community is on ensuring success in the forthcoming examinations.

This morning I learnt about the Breakfast Revision Session that our Media Studies Department had organised before the examination.  Croissants were provided for the students who attended but I believe the real inducement was the last-minute guidance and help that was available from the staff.  With over 50 students attending, I am humbled by the commitment and dedication of our staff.  As I stood near the entrance at the start of the day, I wish I'd had a camera to capture the look on the staff faces as they "buzzed" around trying to calm the students and ensure that all of the students were in the right place and at the right time.  In an age of accountability, one can easily forget how important the results are and also just how much it means to us to ensure that all of our students achieve their potential.

Talking of success, I was privileged in attending our annual Sports Awards Evening last week at the University of Hull.  There was a really vibrant, energetic and expectant atmosphere.  So many young people with their team managers and coaches from the PE Department were enjoying the evening and their outstanding success. I have never worked anywhere where every single team wins every league that they have taken part in.  I believe the exception was one league where two of our teams were entered and they came first and second.  Clearly, this is a result of the hard work and tremendous commitment of the students and all of the staff.  The line from Tiger Woods comes to mind when it was suggested that he "got lucky again".  His response was, "Isn't it funny that the harder I practice, the luckier I get?"

The Sports Awards Evening is an important event on the calendar and a highlight for many students.  I managed to 'slip out' at 9.30 p.m. but I believe that the celebrations continued till late.

The impact of very successful and high quality PE, performing arts, dance, drama and music at Wyke is very discernible.  For many students, this is the highlight of their college day/experience and motivates them to work harder in their subjects.  Certainly, on occasions, it is almost like seeing a completely different person when they are performing on the pitch, in the gym or on stage in front of an audience.  The old adage that "we all need something to succeed at" is absolutely true.

It has been an interesting few weeks in terms of world events: the economic and political crisis in Greece; the victory of Fran├žoise Hollande in France; the local government elections and the fragile partnership of the Coalition Government; the mayoral elections in the capital; President Obama's endorsement of same sex marriages; the proposal of "no notice" Ofsted inspections; the prosecution of Rebekah Brooks and the consultation on the modular nature of A-levels.  The latter is one that worries me.  I am committed to modularity because it is an excellent way to learn "bite-sized" information and to have external feedback on your progress.  I fear that a return to a terminal examination at the end of 2 years will be a retrograde step and at odds with Higher Education where all courses are modular and the academic year semesterised.  The great thing about modular A-levels is that "If you get it wrong, you’ll get it right next time" (Gerry Rafferty, Night Owl), and we all make mistakes.

Whilst the main focus of our College community is on examination success, it is also the time of year when planning for the next academic year is in full flow.  Curriculum reviews, staff appointments, timetabling, budgets and other changes are being planned and costed.  On occasions, I do feel like the Leeds Manager and his plans to bring promotion and success for my beloved Leeds United.

Bob Dylan in "Bringing it all back home" writes "….  My love knows no success or failure but knows that failure is no success at all….”

I hope that all our students attain the grades that they deserve and, if the commitment of our staff is any reflection, then you should do extremely well. 

Good luck.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Great Optimism in the Air

The Spring Term comes to an end with great optimism in the air: the light evenings, staff and students shedding their coats, hats and scarves, the smiling faces of students in the morning, a change in the fortune of my football team, students sitting, chatting and working outdoors on the campus (this really is the time when Wyke SFC feels like a mini-University) and some outstanding modular results.

My favourite poet sang,… "You don't need to be a weatherman to see which way the wind blows…".  I am confident that this augurs well and that our results will improve further with the necessary hard work and sacrifice to ensure success for this final stage.

For our second year students, this period represents a crucial 'final leg' of a marathon.  With just six weeks left, it is essential that the Easter period is used productively and in a structured way.  All students should endeavour to do at least six or seven hours of study a day as well as listening to the staff and attending the revision classes organised. 

Bob Dylan also said in the same song, ".… 20 years of schooling and they put you on the day shift.…".  One doesn't need reminding about how competitive the environment is and many of our students have received excellent offers from the most demanding universities and on the most prestigious courses.  Remaining focused, being determined and thoroughly committed is crucial to ensure success for this stage.  The rewards are self-evident and within reach.

It has been an unusual term, mixed with lots of hilarity and celebration, but also sadness.  Last week we learned about the loss of one of our colleagues, Alexandra Bankoff, after a prolonged period of illness.  The shock of losing one of our own has been felt deeply and is a numbing experience for all.  Alexandra will always be remembered as a colleague for the tremendous work that she did with her Classical Civilisation students, and our Oxbridge applicants.  Our thoughts are with her daughter and family.  One can only begin to empathise with those who have lost their young in France, Switzerland and on the M5 last weekend.

Last week saw the return of our students from their "exchange" in Malmedy, Belgium.  All have returned with stories to tell and reflections on their work experience in schools, shops and companies.  What a brilliant way to learn a new language and experience the unique culture.  I realise that it was a gruelling experience for the staff, but I am delighted to see them rejuvenated by the experience, and convinced about the merits of such an exchange.

Two weeks ago, we had our first Rag Week and I was delighted with the enthusiasm of the students and staff in being involved.  I thought that my costume would certainly be one of the best because of the similarity of my body-shape to the character, but I was disappointed.  To be greeted by Edward Scissorhands; Clint Eastwood; Sherlock Holmes; Smurfs; Skeletons; Scarecrows………….. What a fantastic effort and over £2000 raised to be shared between the Teenage Cancer Trust and to subsidise our students for trips and visits.  Whilst the final day fancy dress was the highlight, I will also remember the sponging (gladly the students are bad shots), five-a-side, buskers, cake selling, the tuck shop, doing strange things with nails and the sumo-wrestling.

Our sports teams continue to achieve success (more on that after the Sports Presentation Evening on 4th May); our debating team reached the finals of the Northern Sixth Form Colleges' competition and came third, and two of our students have reached the final stage for prestigious accountancy scholarships.

May the good weather continue as I will be joining our students for a short stage (6½ miles) of the 40 mile walk on Saturday to raise funds for their visit to South Africa.

Have a great Easter.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Who says we are only concerned about academia?

We are well into the New Year and I would like to wish you continued success and happiness in 2012.

The end of term in December seems like a whirl and such a long time ago.  I have great memories of the Leavers' Awards Evening and our presenter, Claire Rogerson, an outstanding role model, and the wonderful advice that she gave to our subject prizewinners, most of whom were returning after a successful first term at University.  Whilst I didn't know the award winners, I had read about their achievements and seen clips of some of them on the College website.  However, it was great to meet them in person and their proud parents who were very complimentary and delightful.

One of the best parts about my role is to celebrate the success of our students: musical, sport, drama, arts, academia and listen to their stories.  Of course, such success reflects the tremendous work that is undertaken by the students, staff and the sacrifices made by the parents.

Recently, we introduced half-termly awards and it was great to have over 40 nominations, all of a very high standard.  It was brilliant to have the privilege of meeting the five winners, their "glowing" parents and particularly pleasing to hear the tremendous applause that the award winners received from their fellow students upon hearing about their achievements.  On the theme of celebration, two weeks ago I was honoured to be invited to sit on the podium at a graduation ceremony at Hull University.  I was full of admiration for the students as they came on stage to collect their graduate and postgraduate awards.  I was particularly in awe of some of the older students who had returned to education at a later stage in life, having raised their families and pursued their careers.  Some parents were collecting their awards at the same time as their children.  As I marvelled at how proud these individuals were, I was delighted to find that a parent of one of our students (who was in the audience to support his mother), was collecting her Masters award in social work.  How wonderful.  (I just hope that my football team is in a position to compete for some awards at the end of this season). 

This morning as I skidded into work on the snow and ice, a large group of our music students and staff were just leaving to perform in Harrogate this lunchtime.  This week is particularly busy and we have the following events taking place:

·         A group of our top 30 students at AS-level are at Edinburgh University for two days;
·         Our Media and Film Studies students are in New York for the week;
·         The Business Studies students have gone to EuroDisney in Paris to study the business aspects of the theme park;
·         There are a series of workshops at our College next Friday about applying to Oxbridge.  There will also be a number of other schools and colleges present;
·         On Wednesday, our first eleven football team is in the final of the British Colleges' Cup.

Who says we are only concerned about academia?  This highlights our commitment and belief in providing a wide range of experiences to create well rounded students.  Long may it continue.