The last week of term is always an odd affair. I find the time rushes by as I try to get as much done as possible to set up for the next year; all the while dodging around the break down in the normal routines as trips, sports events and various activities take over. In the final dash for the finish line it can be hard to take the time to reflect on the journey that got you this far or, for that matter, to look beyond the false ending to the rest of the route to come.
In many ways this year has been excellent. In August, our geography students achieved their best ever results with the majority exceeding their targets at both GCSE and A level. That set the tone and lifted spirits. It also meant that we have had a huge number of visitors come to have a look at what we are doing, observe lessons, pick through books and schemes of work and discuss our journey. This has been valuable for us, as each gave us their evaluation of what they had seen and quizzed us mercilessly.
It was always a concern that seeking to improve attainment in exams could suck the joy of learning out of lessons. It was therefore good to see our option numbers continue to soar with our highest ever number of pupils taking Geography and at A Level; with around a third of our sixth form now taking the subject.
Another positive from this year has been the development of our key stage three curriculum. There has been a lot of work on it from the whole department and it feels as though we are moving from the distinct silos of information that have for too long made up many geography schemes of work and towards a program that clearly layers up new information to lead to a much greater understanding.
Our school continued with its collaboration time, which was excellent, and meant that people had an additional hour of non-contact time a fortnight to meet with their colleagues, discuss educational research, observe each other, discuss lessons and reflect on their own practice. The pedagogy innovation team, who organise this, continued to blog, run CPD and have a active role in developing teaching and learning in the school. If anyone wants to see what bottom up, teacher autonomy looks like in action they really should pay us a visit.
In between all this I found time to write Making Every Geography Lesson Count (in all good bookshops soon – or pre-order from Amazon to be on the safe side) and to start on my second book, Teach Like Nobody’s Watching. I have also enjoyed writing more for TES, writing the geography PGCE course for BPP (before it was cancelled!) and of course writing here. I’ve also had fun presenting at a few teaching conferences and visiting other schools.
It hasn’t all been a bed of roses. Having both the new GCSE specification exams AND the new A Level exams for the first time was ‘interesting’ and meant that most of the year has been spent in a desperate flurry of lesson planning. The course took longer to complete than I would have liked and I am not sure that on the first run through we really did it justice. It felt less like a curriculum and more like a rush through the specification. We will learn and move on.
The changes to the specifications also meant that we ended up with 7 GCSE classes taking their exams this year, with me teaching 4 of them, as well as 2 A level classes. This meant I never felt I knew my pupils as well as I had done in previous years and some of that regular parental contact was lost as well. Things are returning to normal from September though.
Problems with school funding is still the biggest barrier to real school improvement. I am amazed at how much our Head teacher has achieved with so little financial support. It is truly remarkable, but cannot be sustainable. Sadly, the government seem to have decided that if they manage the headlines and spin the story they don’t actually have to tackle real term cuts to school budgets.
Next year should be a very interesting year. I am adding the role of research lead to my current job and can’t wait to get stuck in there. I have a couple of conferences already lined up and will be presenting at both ResearchEd Kent in December and the national conference in London in September. At both I will be talking about keeping teaching simple, embracing the complexities and avoiding the complications.
It feels like the department is really flying now and I am lucky to have such an incredible team. There is the same buzz around the whole school and a sense that we are going somewhere special. It has been great to see a school that has managed to combine a sustained focus on academic success with a huge range of extra curricular activities, student leadership opportunities and slashed staff workload all at the same time.
I am, of course, looking forward to some downtime over the next few weeks but I am also excited for the next term and the chance to see where we go next.
The finish line may be in sight but it is just the next lap done. Onward comrades.