Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Success Breeds Success

Two weeks’ ago on Friday afternoon, I drove home in anticipation of news about our College success.  I listened to "Oh, Lonesome Me" by Neil Young and thought about the pressures on young people to succeed and to make the necessary short-term sacrifices.

"Everybody’s going out and having fun
I'm a fool for staying home and having none."

Clearly, all of you have a lot going on in your life and the temptation/pressure to prioritise the social aspects of life at the expense of academic success is always present.  However, the point I would make is that sometimes it is possible to do both by being well-organised, using your time productively and being well disciplined.  On other occasions, it is necessary to make short-term sacrifices for the long-term gain.  Indeed, recent reports in the press (Institute of Fiscal Studies) clearly show that students with A-levels outperform those without in terms of future earnings and promotions.  It is also no surprise that, on average, graduates outperform in comparison to students who have succeeded at A-level.

So, the message is work hard even if it means that you have to defer things that others are 'enjoying’ at the moment.  We all have strategies to avoid work.  Mine is to decide to tidy my desk but I am now aware of this and when I find myself doing so, I am better positioned to stop myself.

The mock examinations are looming and I hope that you are all revising hard and clear about what you will be assessed on, when and know the structure of the examination.  Please do not be lulled into thinking that it doesn't matter.  It certainly does and will give us a clear indication of what you have learned and how you are likely to do in the summer.

Over the weekend, I learned about the thrilling way in which our netballers triumphed in the Regional finals, our Economists were runners-up in the prestigious Bank of England competition in York and about the 15 students in Year 11 from our partner schools, who were taken to Cambridge University.  I was particularly pleased that these prospective students were shown around the University by our former students, Connor Fowler and Katie Craven.  Long may this tradition continue.  Success breeds success and there is no reason why we cannot have this arrangement at every Russell Group University.

On Sunday evening, I learned that one of our students, through his own endeavour, had won the Hull Entrepreneur of the Year for 2014.  Clearly, this young man has a tremendous future and is one to watch for the future.

Today, in staff briefing, we enjoyed seeing a short clip of a video when it was announced that we had reached, for the first time, the final of the Law Mooting Competition in Leeds.  Even though we were narrowly beaten by another Sixth Form College, it shows what we are capable of.  I feel so proud and genuinely believe that there is no limit to what we can achieve provided that we believe in ourselves, work extremely hard and aim for the very best.  It is not enough to be very able; what makes the difference is that extra commitment, drive and practice (10,000 hours) that the top performers in all areas put in.

I heard on the news this morning that £15 billion will be spent on the much-needed 'road revolution' and at the weekend, an extra £2 billion for our deserving NHS.  I'm very pleased but cannot help wondering why there isn't a commensurate increase in funding for Sixth Form Colleges.  I feel it is wrong that, despite being one of the most successful and cost effective sectors within education, unlike academies, schools and free schools, we still have to pay VAT on our provision.  The Sixth Form Colleges' Association has launched the "DROP THE LEARNING TAX" campaign and I would urge you all to have a look at the web page,, and sign the e-petition.

I was delighted with the performance of my beloved Leeds United at the weekend.  The result reflected the power of teamwork and self-belief.  I feel quietly confident and slightly smug, just for this week.

Finally, as the darkness 'draws-in’ and daylight hours appear to diminish, remember to remain upbeat.  You are not on your own.  On the Neil Young theme from 'Only Love Can Break Your Heart':

"When you are young and on your own
How did it feel to be alone?
I was thinking of games
That I was playing
Trying to make the best of my time"….

"I have a friend I’ve never seen.
He hides his head inside a dream.
Someone should call him and see
If he can come out.
Try to love the down that he has found".

Have a great build up to the end of term.


Tuesday, 4 November 2014

It is all about using Data

Welcome back and I hope that you have all had a really good break.  Thank you all for such a superb Open Evening on Thursday, 23rd October, when we were able to show prospective students what a great College we have.  Many parents commented on our achievements, our warm and friendly welcome, our honesty, our openness and our celebration of success.  I certainly felt really proud and honoured to be a part of such a key event.

I read a fascinating article in The Guardian a few weeks ago about Billy Bean.  He is an American former professional baseball player and CEO of Oakland Athletics.  He has revolutionised the way in which data is used to understand baseball and improve performance.  Since 2000, the As have reached the play-offs 8 times despite having
one of the smallest budgets.  So how do the As achieve such success?  According to Bean,

"… it is about using data and detailed analysis to find value.  It means that when it comes to recruitment you have to engage in detailed and lengthy analysis of potential targets, not falling into the familiar trap of recruiting someone because they played well against your team.  It means being open to new ideas and 'being the dumbest guy in the team'".

As I read this article, I began to extrapolate about our College, our performance, our development and, of course, my beloved Leeds United.  Are we "punching above our weight?"  This would seem to fit with the expressions of surprise that I hear when I attend meetings in the South, and for some, they don't even know where our college is.  However, I am certainly not surprised when I see all the wonderful work going on and the 'beautiful' conversations that I have and overhear.

If each of us can understand and begin to use the data more intelligently, then surely we can get even better.  So for example, what does the data tell us about:

how we teach;
how we learn;
the quality of results that we obtain;
taking that small step to get better;
are we receptive to new ideas;
do we make a judgement about someone who asks the most basic question, such as, 'Why are we doing this?
Does it work?" and finally,
what can we do to improve our performance even further?

Hope we all have an even better second half-term and that we can continue to improve.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Powerful and Poignant

Last weekend was spent with some long-standing, very close family friends and we talked about some great lines from films (as one does late into the night).  One that came to mind straightaway was performed by Rutger Hauer in Blade Runner.  In this, the character Batty reflects on his mortality and I love the imagery created:

"I have…seen things you people wouldn't believe… Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion.  I watched c-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate.  All those…moments…will be lost in time, like tears…in…rain."

Wow!  How powerful and poignant.  What, you may ask, has this got to do with our College?  Well, you must remember how quickly the two years pass and before you know it, it will be time for you to leave and move onto the next stage in your life.  Memories will fade "like tears in rain" or "like a river to a raindrop", and you must ensure that you make the most of all that is available to you.  Take control, don't sit back and wait for things to happen to you.  Enjoy your learning, ask plenty of questions and get involved in the wide range of things on offer: debating; Young Enterprise; music; competitions; visits; the college newspaper; the Student Executive; drama; dance; sport and poetry.  Remember, as Oscar Wilde said:

"Education is what is left when all that you have learned in the classroom is forgotten."

I really love to see the laughter, fun and enthusiasm on your faces throughout the College.  I have been very lucky in being able to witness this during my "learning walks".  I am genuinely excited about the prospect of our first band night on 15th October and our participation, for the first time, in the "Shakespeare in Schools" production at Hull Truck on 22nd October.

Last night I was at our Corporation meeting and was saddened to hear about tales of the 'games' that some of our competitors play to "keep you" at the school: special assemblies; calling in parents for meetings if you have been to our College for an interview; using students who have left our College to inform their peers about how 'bad' it is at Wyke and ensuring that school events are 'organised' to coincide with our Open Evening.  It disappoints and angers me that this goes on but I am delighted that you have seen "through this" and chosen to come here.  I hope that your experience is really positive and I know that you will be really successful.  Ultimately, you will be the ones who will and can challenge some of their lies and through your success, demonstrate the 'beauty of our College'.  The line from Oscar Wilde comes to mind:

"What is worse than being talked about is not being talked about at all."

Clearly, if our College is being talked about then we must be seen as a real threat.  We must be doing something right.  Please continue in the same vein and do not lose that "passion" to learn.

As I look out of my office into the Library, all I see is a sea of people, quietly working and focused on work.  I am lucky that I get to see and comment on so many of your personal statements and that you do approach me, ask about things at the College and my opinions.  Long may that continue.  Enjoy your learning.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

What a brilliant feeling!

Today as I stood in the entrance at 8:45 am, I saw so many of our new students coming into College for the first time.  What a brilliant feeling!  I too had butterflies in my stomach – a new place, so many exciting opportunities, smiling and apparently confident faces.  What a wonderful period but also very scary.  I could almost see the 'thought bubbles' full of trepidation:

"Will I make new friends?"
"Will I fit in?"
"What will my teachers be like?"
"Is what I am wearing acceptable?"

Well, if the rest of the year is anything like today, it will be brilliant.  I could sense the atmosphere in the theatre during my talks - the focus and commitment on your faces clear to see.  Remember, believe in yourselves.  You have been accepted on 'merit' and now you will 'fly'.  You are joining a College where it is the norm to be successful, where you will work hard, be pushed and enjoy your learning experience.  Ofsted mentioned the 'amazing culture of learning at Wyke' and you are now part of it.  You are following in a tradition from where students have gone to the most prestigious universities, the top courses and superb employment prospects.  Remember to be yourself, become excited about learning and get involved in the range of experiences that are on offer: music; sport; drama; debating; dance; business; film….

The adage, "you only get out what you put in" is so true.  Our students succeed, not only because of the top grades achieved, but also because of the other experiences and skills that they have acquired.  The words from Coldplay's "Us against the World" come to mind.  Through all the changes, you need to walk a clear path and be confident.

"The tightrope that I’m walking just sways and ties".

It is hard being a young person in 2014 (wasn't it always the case?).  You will have already received many 'invitations' to choose other options.  Hold your nerve:

"Through chaos as it swirls.
It's us against the world".

You have made the right choice and you will now have a brilliant two years.

Tomorrow we welcome back our second years who have been incredibly successful.  I am really looking forward to seeing the happy faces that I saw during results day.  Remember that this year will 'whirl by' and before you know it, you will be preparing to go off to university.  So don't waste a single second, be focused from the outset and be prepared to build on your outstanding AS and BTEC results.

At this time of year, I always remember a close friend of mine who I lost last year and when I heard this from the same track, I felt very pensive.  It made me realise just how quickly time passes and how we need to make the most of each other:

"Like a river to a raindrop
I lost a friend."

So no Bobby D this time and my beloved Leeds United have a "new" team but no manager to lead us to the ‘promised land’.  Perhaps, soon.

At Wyke, welcome back to our staff whose dedication and commitment are second to none.  It is through our team effort that we continue to be a leading College nationally.  Our ALPs grades of 2 (AS); 3 (A2) and 2 (BTEC) place us amongst the highest performing sixth form colleges throughout the country.  Welcome, too, to our new staff about whom we are very excited.  In my fourth year at Wyke, I believe that this year we have our "strongest team”.  This means that not only have we recruited some excellent colleagues (at different levels within the College and some who will join us in January), but that the staff in key roles are best placed to make our College even more successful.

Enjoy the start of the new academic year.

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Thinking about the “Next Stage"

The Wyke journey started for many of you over 2 years ago, when you began the process of thinking about the “next stage".  A line from "The Clash" comes to mind,

                                "Should I stay or should I go…"

Perhaps one should also add, or “should I go elsewhere".

You then attended the Open Evenings, Open Saturdays and were interviewed at Wyke.  Do you remember who interviewed you?  You took your GCSEs and came to Wyke Start.  What do you remember about that?  Throughout your Year 11 career, if you were in an 11–18 school, you were probably bombarded with stories and anecdotes about Wyke.  Do you remember what these were and were they true?  Clearly, this didn't put you off and you walked through the main entrance on that first day in September.

Full of trepidation, angst and excitement, you plunged into the sea of experience, were whisked off to Fort Paull, returned and survived.  I hope that you did more than "survive".  I am confident that you have thrived, grown, matured, worked really hard, had fun and are fulfilling your potential.

I am so delighted by the many conversations that I have had with you and I am continually surprised by your enthusiasm, effervescence and humour.  Just today, I talked to a student, J.D., who said,

"It doesn't matter what your teacher is like but it is what you put in that counts…".

This young man has been a model student who "works hard and plays hard".  Long may that continue because top employers want people who communicate well, have lots of interests and are prepared to "have a go".

As I sit and write this, many of you are coming out of exams whilst others are working hard and preparing.  Remember what I said to you if you were in one of my talks, 'have no regrets' and do not leave our College wishing that you had done more.  Edith Piaf’s song comes to mind:

                                "Non, je ne regrette rien…”.

Life is short and you have to ensure that all that you do is with your full commitment.  Never do anything half-heartedly.  The world is full of people who either expect things to be done for them or accept that things will be done to them, and then moan.  The most successful people in life are the ones who take control.

When I think back to this year, I was thrilled to witness the wonderful talks that I heard at the hustings for the Student Executive.  I am full of admiration for those of you who stood up in front of your peers and had the courage to say what you believed in.  I was also very pleased to be in the audience and experience the attentive way in which you listened and encouraged your fellow students.

This year has been very successful and already the accolades are coming in: our 1st, 2nd and 3rd XI football teams are league champions: our 4th team were second in the league to the 3rd team; our 1st team in netball are the league winners and County Champions for the third year; our basketball team are the league winners and County Champions; you have won countless awards in other sports, music, dance and drama.  So many of you have won medals in mathematics, science, poetry and the arts.  Many of you have had amazing offers from the most prestigious universities, on the most prestigious courses and won places on the aspirational summer schools through the Sutton Trust.  I am sure that you will have noticed the International Honours board as you come in to our College.

So very well done and our own Chris Robinson has said to his faculty, "We are in the final few minutes of the game and we must remain focused."  We all know that games can be won right at the end.  

I would like to finish with two messages:

·         Remember to enjoy and embrace life and be ‘crazy’.  The words from Paul Simon come to mind,

“I met my old lover (friends from Wyke)
on the streets last night,
She (they) seemed so glad to see me we just smiled;
We talked about the good times (at Wyke) and we drank ourselves some wine
Still crazy after all these years."

·         Enjoy the game this Saturday and let's hope that Hull City achieve success for all of you and the city.  (My beloved Leeds have not been in a Wembley final since the mid-90s).

Friday, 11 April 2014

The Final Leg of the Race

As I was driving home (after a really good day) last night, I listened to "Ballad of a Thin Man" by Bobby Dylan, and I began to reflect on events at our College.  A series of lines kept coming back to me:

"You've been with the professors
And they've all liked your looks
With great lawyers you have
Discussed lepers and crooks
You've been through all of
F.Scott Fitzgerald's books
You're very well read
It's well known
Because something is happening here (at Wyke)
But you don't know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?"

What made the day so special yesterday were the beautiful conversations that I had with so many of you, hearing about the successes of the practical examinations, witnessing some excellent learning during my walks and teaching my AS group in the afternoon.

There is so much to celebrate here at our College and it makes me so proud.  Your achievements are astonishing and very well deserved.  To be fourth nationally for value-added out of all of the Sixth Form Colleges in the country is incredible.  It is not the statistics (which are important) but the atmosphere, culture, the way you all speak to each other, the way in which you welcome guests and fellow students who are different, is 'beautiful'.  Long may that continue. 

Another of Bobby D’s songs, "It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry", comes to mind:

"Don't the moon look good, mamma,
Shinin’ through the trees?……
Don't the sun look good
Goin' down the sea?"

Work really hard, enjoy the break and above all, come back energised, and prepared for the 'final leg of the race'.  Have no regrets about wishing that you had done more.

Have a brilliant Easter.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Success and Achievement have to be Earned

Since I last wrote, a great deal has happened at our College.  We have had the results of our mock examinations, parents' evenings, the last of our Open Evenings and Open Saturday.  All of us are acutely aware of the importance of good organisation, hard work, focus and commitment in the remaining weeks.  I have emphasised to all of you, during the talks in February, that this is the time when you have to work harder than you have ever worked to make the necessary sacrifices in the short-term so that you can fulfil your ambitions.  We do not want any of you to leave our College with regrets about not working harder. 

You have everything that you need to help and guide you to success: tremendous teaching, support both in and out of lessons, the range of extra/extension work that is organised by each department and outstanding facilities.  I should also reiterate the importance of an attendance rate of over 95% (since January) in order to progress onto the next year.  Needless to say, our best students are always the ones with an attendance rate of 100%. 

In any walk of life, the outstanding performers are always the ones who show exceptional commitment.  Success and achievement have to be earned.  The performance of our College – top of the performance league tables in the region, in the top 10 nationally for Sixth Form Colleges for ‘A’ level and in the top 4 nationally for value-added – is exceptional, but success and achievement have to be earned through hard work.  Failure to do so or complacency means that there are plenty of others who will replace you at the top.  This is borne out by the apparent decline of a team in red and the dismal performance of my beloved Leeds.  Things will need to change radically for next season.  However, I am delighted about Hull City’s achievements this season, which are deserved and will be great for the city.

On a lighter note, I was very pleased with the success of "Little Shop of Horrors", and the way in which it ‘drew out’ the best qualities within our College community.  With so many students, the range of Departments involved and the 'buzz' that it created, I am confident that this will be highly beneficial for our College and our reputation in the community.  I even heard an elderly couple after the show say, "Wow!  That was brilliant.  How can anyone say that there is no culture in Hull?"

Our College continues to offer tremendous experiences for all of you.  Our Media students returned from a really enjoyable visit to New York about a month ago and this weekend, staff and students have returned from Naples (Geography Department) and Washington (Politics Department).  I know that everyone found the experience very worthwhile, enjoyable but exhausting.  Many thanks to all those who were involved, who organised the trips and were involved in the fundraising events.  The staff and students who are travelling to South Africa at Easter have also been working hard in raising over £4000.  Last week’s 'singing' competition was effective in raising nearly £200 but highly embarrassing for me and for the Senior Team.  I cannot help feeling that Postman Pat was ‘robbed’.  This weekend, our linguists will be travelling to Belgium for the return part of the exchange/ work experience.  I am sure that this will also be really enjoyable and a great preparation for the forthcoming examinations.

By now all of you must be aware of the results of the Student Executive elections for 2014–2015.  I must say that I was really, really pleased to hear such outstanding speeches.  The calibre of the presentations was brilliant and a testament to the changes that have been made by the existing Student Executive.  The fact that the Theatre was 'packed out' last week, the way in which all of you who attended, listened to the presentations in such a supportive way and the amazing turnout was incredible.  I felt really proud and would like to thank all of you who stood for the elections.  It takes courage and effort to do so and speak in front of all your peers.  It will definitely stand you in good stead in the future and is an excellent preparation for the successful careers that you will have.  It is so easy to just sit back and do nothing.  In life, the ‘shakers and movers’ are always the ones who are brave and willing to do something extra.  So regardless of the results, very well done and thank you.  You are instrumental in transforming the culture at our College.

“When the forms of an old culture are dying, the new culture is created by a few people who are not afraid to be insecure,"

Rudolf Bahro, member of the German Green Party.

Today is the start of Rag Week and already the excitement is mounting.  I have just realised how dangerous it is to be out in the public arena with my ‘purple peg’ for the Hunger Games.  My costume is 'organised' for Friday and I can guarantee that I will not be recognised.  Enjoy yourselves and let's raise plenty of money for the 'Make a Wish Foundation’.

Monday, 27 January 2014

Go the Extra Mile

Welcome back to the new term.  I hope that you have had a good break, that you were well prepared for the mock examinations and that your results reflect your level of work.

During the last week before Christmas, we had our Leavers' Awards evening for students who have left the College but were returning to collect their subject prizes.  Most notable amongst the returning students was Calum Barnett, who is at University College, London.  Calum's academic achievements are astounding and he deservedly won the prize for outstanding academic achievement (Chemistry A*, French A*, Maths (Further) A*, Maths (Mechanics) A*, Physics A, General Studies A*, EPQ A*).  The reason why I am telling you this is because Calum was unsuccessful (undeservedly) in receiving an offer from Oxford or Cambridge University.  I believe that, on this occasion, Oxford and Cambridge got it wrong.  My message to any of you who have either applied or are thinking of applying to Oxbridge, is remember that it can be a bit of a lottery and that they sometimes fail to necessarily get the best students.  However, I am also delighted that for the first time in our College history, all seven of our students who were interviewed have been successful in receiving offers.  So very well done and I would encourage all AS students who are likely to achieve very high grades to consider applying.

Christmas was a welcome blur.  We returned in the New Year to mock examinations, marking, assessments and our beautiful “new” building, Elm.  I am delighted with it, in particular, the Performance and Fitness Studio.  Elm feels like a natural extension of our campus and I would like to thank everyone for being so patient and considerate during the busy and crowded first term.  I am pleased that we have already started using the Performance and Fitness Studio for lessons, staff meetings and the official opening and celebration of our 25th anniversary last Friday.  The 25th anniversary celebration was an excellent way to formally 'open' Elm and to meet former staff, some ex-students and to talk and listen to the two previous Principals: Martin Ward from 1988 – 2002; Dick Smith from 2002 – 2011.  We were also able to celebrate the service of staff who have worked at the College since the time when it was first opened.  All colleges need a combination of experience and youth, some staff who have been at the College for a large number of years and some new 'blood'.  If there is an imbalance of either then it can be very difficult.

Yesterday the post-16 performance league tables were published and I am delighted that, once again, our College is the highest (non-selective) performer in Hull, East Riding and the region.  Indeed, we were the 12th out of all the Sixth Form Colleges nationally and our value-added score puts us in 6th/7th position nationally.  So very well done and I feel really proud of all our achievements.  However, remember that this is hard earned and all of you must be clearly focused and committed to replicate this in the future.

This term promises to be equally exciting and busy.  We have a number of trips planned: the trip to Washington organised by our Politics Department; the New York visit organised by the Media Department and the South African trip in April.  In addition to this, our netballers travel to Harrogate as County Champions tonight to take part in the Regional finals.  Good luck to our team – I am sure that they will give a good account of themselves.

We now have approximately 10 weeks left of teaching before the external examinations.  It is critical that all of you ensure that you get the maximum benefit from the staff and make the relevant sacrifices.  I do not want anyone to think, "If only I had worked harder…"  Every single one of you should endeavour to 'go the extra mile' to ensure that you fulfil your potential and can be successful.  That is more than I can say for my beloved Leeds United.