Tuesday, September 3, saw the arrival of our new year 7 and year 12 students. As is the case in many schools we give them a settling in day on their own before we brought the whole school in a day later.
As all heads do, I greeted our new students as they arrived in school for their first day after the long summer break. When I did the same for the rest of the school the next day I was struck by the contrast between our new and more established students.
Year 7 were understandably nervous but were also extremely excited. As I spent time in their first lessons their enthusiasm for all the new learning opportunities we threw at them was evident, as was their desire to please and do their best.
As years 8 to 11 arrived on their first day many (although not all) were less than enthusiastic, half asleep and slightly grumpy.
On that first day I also had the privilege to teach a year 12 biology class and I again found myself reflecting upon why the majority of teachers, myself included, view our 6th form lessons as one of the main highlights in our timetables.
For me it is about the different relationship that you can build with post-16 students, how you can work with them to develop a much more meaningful love of your subject, and how you have the opportunity to watch them grow into amazing young adults.
So it is clear that a challenge for me in the coming year is how to maintain the trajectory from year 7 to 12 as a straight line rather than a curve with the classic year 9 dip. While not wanting to abdicate my responsibility, I have felt for some time that the path to real success in this area lies in effective whole-school parental engagement.
Having recently invested in a web-based homework system that enables parents to view the homework set for their child on a daily, class-by-class basis, I was really disappointed to see that, despite repeated offers of help with logging on, an astonishing 52 per cent of parents had not yet done so. In the light of this statistic, it is not surprising that too many students returned to the new school year not having completed their summer homework.
Taking the view that Rome was not built in a day, targeting year 7 parents seems the more appropriate and manageable way forward.
Anyone who has driven past a primary school at the start or end of the day will have observed how it is the norm for parents to have a chat with their child’s teacher about progress in the playground.
Yet when making the transition to secondary school we actively discourage parents from crossing the threshold. While the large numbers of children in secondary schools make a similar daily contact totally impractical, it appears to me that we should try to find a way to capture the enthusiasm that parents have for their children’s learning and nurture it, in exactly the same way as we need to do with our new year 7 students.
If, as school leaders, we can maintain effective and appropriate habits of engagement in our year 7 parents, that change and develop to match the changing needs of their children as they move through school then I believe that we would be well on the way to raising standards and providing children with the very best education where they are challenged and, at the same time, supported by all the adults around them.
Somehow we need to try and bottle the undoubted enthusiasm that both children and their parents have at the beginning of year 7.
Some of that bottled enthusiasm would be extremely useful on a cold February afternoon when trying to inspire year 9 students.
Diary of a headteacher is written in rotation by three practising headteachers from secondary schools across the country.