I muse about this as we do our second big set-piece of the season, Sixth Form Open Night. We’re a huge sixth form and a big importer, so it’s important to give local and distant sixteen-year-olds a gander at what we offer. Head of Sixth (by his own admission dressed like an accountant for the gig) and I (dressed to match the tablecloths) give it our rhetorical best. He’s inclined to the expansive but assures me he’s timed himself and so he has, 20 minutes delivered four times faultlessly, graphs, charts, the lot. The stars, however, are the extant sixth formers who charm the crowd. Ellen’s been with us since she was a rusher and chaser, subtle and stylish in black and applying to Oxford, couldn’t do it without Ms McG and the History department. Grace is newer, in a sort of transition too, been here seven weeks and already running the show. She’s got a lab coat over her Tallis Habits tee shirt and dashes off between speeches to check up on science.
As we manage this year 11 to 12 transition we try make sure that young people don’t make the wrong choices for the wrong reasons. We don’t keep everyone here: our sixth form is largely A levels and solely level 3 courses, so some of our own go elsewhere to get the courses they need. Some want to spread their wings. A few, however, are persuaded by parents to move on when they’d rather stay and this worries us. One or two leave us every year to go to grammar school sixths over the border, which really doesn’t make sense. Our results are excellent and our value-added is outstanding – top 15% of sixth forms anywhere. Stay with us and you get a grade higher than you might expect, including in the grammar schools. Do well in a comprehensive school sixth form and admissions tutors at competitive universities love you. Our people make better undergraduates than those from independent and selective schools because they have their work habits embedded for themselves, in their own habits and minds. However, it’s hard for some parents to see beyond the brand hype of grammar schools and they worry that their beloveds might lose the chance to get ahead of the game. We find new ways of explaining it, so we’ve two enormous banners showing where last year’s year 13s went to university. It’s pretty impressive but a pity that the architecture of the foyer gives you a crick in your neck if you try to read them.
Chair of Governors wanders around talking to staff between presentations and demos. He wants to hear their thoughts on workload and how the new day feels. We’ve changed the transitional parts of the day; added time to registration and separated the rushers from the moochers in two shorter lunchtimes. Governors worry when staff say it feels exhausting: I worry too. It works for the children but it’s harder on the adults, so we’ll need to keep an eye on it.
Friday is Black History Month Own Clothes Day. The year 10 girls who’ve organised it are clear, committed and very organised and their doughnuts sell out in minutes. A group of boys come to talk about some work they’re doing with Barclays and ask if they can hold a talent show. They all impress me: confident, articulate, brave. But I’ve stuff to worry about: money largely, and the pressures of cyberspace, body image and street life. How we sustain what we do and ease transitions for all our children. How we offer education for the hand and the heart as well as the head. How we change the world for the better.
Good job its half term, a transitional point to clear the mind. And new drains to come back to!