chasing horizons

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Chasing Horizons

It is with profound sadness that I must inform you that Gipsy Hill School is not able to open this year.   When our application to open the school was accepted in the autumn of 2015, the Department for Education (DFE) instructed us to open the school in September 2017 but they have been unable to find a suitable ‘interim’ site to house the school whilst our permanent building is constructed. The Trustees, Board Members and the Gipsy Hill School Team have explored and exhausted every possibility for over three years with increased urgency over recent months in an effort to keep to a September 2017 opening date so that we could open the school for this year’s Year 6 children and parents but, regrettably, these efforts have not been successful. 

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Gipsy Hill School opening deferred

Gipsy Hill Federation has announced with sadness that its new secondary school, Gipsy Hill School, will not be able to welcome its first intake of pupils in September 2017 as planned. Following a passionate campaign for a new secondary school by parents of pupils at the Federation family of primaries across South London backed by the local community, the Department for Education (DfE) in 2015 gave the go-ahead for Gipsy Hill School to open its doors in 2017. The school has received 2.5 applications for every place. Despite exhaustive efforts by Federation staff and Board Members to identify suitable sites, the DfE has not been able to find an ‘interim’ site to house temporary buildings for the school whilst permanent premises are built at Glenbrook, Park Avenue, Clapham. Officials from the DfE informed the Federation last week that the planned September 2017 opening should be deferred. Headteacher James Hadley said: “It is with profound sadness that the Federation has had to tell parents, future pupils and staff that we will not be able to keep our promise to open Gipsy Hill School this September. “We had discussed with the Department for Education two viable, fully planned options to house the school for two years whilst the permanent site was built. However the DfE was concerned that a delay in building work outside our control could result in temporary buildings being needed for a third year and neither of the options could offer sufficient space for an additional year’s intake. “We have discussed at length the situation with the Department for Education and together have reached the sad conclusion that we simply could not take the risk to open the school if there was any chance of not enough space for our students at any point. “The strength of parental resolve to open the school has spurred us on to do whatever it takes to open the school and I am very sorry that we aren’t able to do this in 2017.” The Gipsy Hill School is part of the Free School programme and will form part of a multi-academy trust with Gipsy Hill Federation Primary schools across South London. Lambeth and Southwark Councils have given assurances that there will be enough secondary school places for every current Year 6 pupil.

21/02/2017
Gipsy Hill School opening deferred

Designing our Curriculum

DESIGNING OUR CURRICULUM I am leading the school’s work in designing our curriculum and the assessment systems that will underpin it. The chance to design a complete school curriculum from scratch is a once-in-a-career opportunity! Gipsy Hill School is opening at a time when primary and secondary schools across the country are dealing with significant changes to their curricula, triggered by sweeping reforms to GCSEs, A-levels and end-of-primary school SATS exams. In many ways, this leaves us in a fortunate position, because so many of our colleagues in other schools are having to radically redesign their programmes at a time when we are creating ours for the first time. One of the country’s leading exam boards has recently published grids that are designed to help teachers deal with the changes. Each subject has its own grid which maps out all of the knowledge, skills and understanding required for GCSE success, using banks of (often hundreds of) statements. Each enormous map is divided into twelve steps: the twelfth step represents the pinnacle of achievement at age 16 (beyond the top grade at GCSE, which is now grade 9) whilst the first step describes a student who arrives at secondary school working significantly below the standard you would expect at age 11. Each step is designed to represent a year of progress; in other words, the exam board expects the average student to take a year to progress from step 3 to step 4 in a grid. Over the last few weeks I have been working very closely with expert Year 6 teachers in our primary schools to help us ascertain exactly what each of our students will be able to do when they finish primary school. The difference between what many secondary teachers think has been covered in primary school (and from the evidence I have seen, the external exam boards think has been taught) compared to what is actually covered and actually learned is often incredible. In Maths, for example, reforms to the tests Year 6 children sit at the end of primary school mean that students now arrive at secondary school having covered almost all of what is traditionally taught in Year 7 in Number and Geometry. It is no wonder that so many Federation children tell us that they find Year 7 Maths boring! English is no different; the average Year 6 students’ expertise in punctuation is roughly where the exam board’s grid expects students to be in Year 9. Gipsy Hill School will be different. With the help of colleagues teaching Year 6, we have evolved a system that tells us exactly what children have covered. Best of all, we can use it to quickly ascertain precisely what children have covered even if they haven’t attended a Federation primary school; all we need to know is the scores they have obtained in their end-of-primary-school SATS tests, plus some extra information gleaned in a brief conversation with their Year 6 teacher. Whichever school our Year 7 students have come from, they are assured of a unique opportunity to hit the ground running when our school opens in September. Our new school is an unparalleled opportunity to devise a curriculum that’s an utterly seamless transition between Year 6 and Year 7. We are determined to make the most of it. Luke

06/02/2017
Designing our Curriculum

A visit to Michaela School

I recently read the fascinating book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Teachers, written by the founding teachers of Michaela Free School in Wembley Park. Finding many of their mould-breaking approaches fascinating on paper, Luke and I seized the opportunity to visit the school this week. The title of the book and the school’s motto ‘Knowledge is Power’ foreshadow their ethos. This is a school with sky high expectations realised through a no excuses culture. Teaching is carefully and relentlessly focused on ensuring that all children learn, understand and memorise the core knowledge in each subject to prepare them for exam success and to provide them with the cultural capital that is often missing from the education provided by the state sector. It is rare to visit a school which has both challenged orthodoxy so comprehensively and been so unwavering in its approach. The staff at Michaela have taken painstaking care to consider every detail to ensure that how the school functions in practice achieves the aims set out on paper. During our visit, every child in every setting, be it in-class, in the playground or at ‘family lunch’ was impeccably behaved and well-mannered, displaying a confidence when talking to adults that belied their age and huge pride in their school. Crystal clear routines mean that no time is wasted and these children are safe and happy in their school environment. Luke and I were both hugely impressed and inspired by what has been achieved at Michaela and the vision for Gipsy Hill School is similar in many ways. Without a doubt, exam success is important and cannot be achieved without impeccable behaviour and a very carefully planned curriculum. Without doubt, equipping all children with the cultural capital and social skills for success is essential if they are to be able to break through the glass ceiling which often prevents those who are otherwise well-qualified from reaching their potential. Without doubt, this school is doing incredible things to improve the life chances of all of its pupils whilst ensuring that the teachers who are so dedicated to making a success of the project have a manageable and sustainable workload. Whilst there are commonalities there are also some important differences. Chief amongst these is our commitment to philosophy and our belief that knowledge and skills are symbiotic not mutually exclusive. Whilst knowledge is power, knowledge is not truth. Knowledge as truth can become too powerful if it is not questioned. Encouraging children to question orthodoxy and to think for themselves is both a fundamental tenet of democracy and a skill which we value more than ever in our ‘post truth’ world. James

27/01/2017
A visit to Michaela School

World Class Workbooks!

This week, we have begun the process of devising the published exercise books that we will order for all students in all subjects. The workbooks are a continuation of the workbooks found in each of our primary schools which look and feel stunning! We want all of our students to take huge pride in their work and providing them with workbooks of the highest quality is the starting point for our high expectations. Each workbook will have a plastic cover to ensure that it is hard-wearing. Each will have an image and an inspirational quote that is linked to the subject. Each will have a printed Map of Learning for each subject outlining the learning journey for the year. Each will contain key vocabulary and advice to support learning through the year. In recent years, the way in which the quality of Teaching and Learning has been measured by schools and by Ofsted has moved further towards analysing pupils’ recorded learning in their books rather than what is seen in the classroom. We applaud this but we believe that students’ workbooks are of paramount importance beyond measuring how much children have learnt. They are the ultimate exemplification of their progress and learning and should, therefore, be of the highest possible quality. James

20/01/2017
World Class Workbooks!

Uniform

The uniform that our students will wear is incredibly important to our entire community. For the wider public, it’s an important part of the public face of the school: what the school stands for and what its expectations are. For our students, it needs to be something they are proud to wear from the moment they arrive in Year 7 to the moment they leave us for a fulfilling adult life over half a decade later. Will the uniform they wear make them feel confident? Happy? Proud of their school and what it stands for? This all needs to be achieved with a careful eye on the practicalities. How much does it cost? How easy is it to get hold of? Will it be easy to get a replacement when you lose it on a Friday afternoon and you need a new one for Monday morning? Is it durable? Will it last? Will it withstand the stresses and strains of a busy, rewarding school career? Is it comfortable? And the big one: how on earth do you find something that everybody- students, parents, public, staff, governors- is actually impressed by? In November James and I began the process of talking about uniform to the Year 6 pupils currently at the Federation. We were immediately struck by the strength of the opinion. Fortunately, there was some clear guidance. A blazer? Definitely. A grey one? Definitely not; almost everyone wanted a very dark shade of blue somewhere beyond navy that the suppliers call ‘diesel’. Should girls have the option of skirts or trousers? Yes, definitely (and whilst we’re here- there are very strong views about the number of pleats!) A tie? The students were clear: yes, definitely, and every boy and every girl should wear one. We’ve had several meetings over the last month with major uniform suppliers and have spent time with them designing some new ties. (function(t,e,c,o){var n,s,i;t.SMCX=t.SMCX||[],e.getElementById(o)||(n=e.getElementsByTagName(c),s=n[n.length-1],i=e.createElement(c),i.type="text/javascript",i.async=!0,i.id=o,i.src=["https:"===location.protocol?"https://":"http://","widget.surveymonkey.com/collect/website/js/rNejYSMUmW5D2ogWmZczdlWYP2wStV9IwSGuIMihL_2F8ytj6Q9UOcnRotduAchWsl.js"].join(""),s.parentNode.insertBefore(i,s))})(window,document,"script","smcx-sdk"); Create your own user feedback survey It’s really important to us that we create a uniform that everyone involved in Gipsy Hill School is proud of and to make sure that happens we want to make sure we involve as many people in our community as possible in the decision. The final uniform should be ready to unveil in a few months’ time. We’d really appreciate you spending a few minutes to share your views with a few clicks. I won’t reveal which one my favourite is! Luke

13/01/2017
Uniform

There is much to look forward to in 2017!

Now that we have entered 2017, the opening of Gipsy Hill School seems much closer and the excitement and anticipation is building! We have now begun discussions with architects and are beginning to see the plans for our permanent site at Glenbrook take shape. It is fascinating to be involved in the decision making that will deliver a new school building that will serve our community for many generations and we will share more of these plans as soon as we are able to. Since being appointed as Head of Gipsy Hill School, I have spent a great deal of time learning as much as possible about school design. Luke Rogers (Deputy Head) and I have visited a number of new schools and in recent months to evaluate different approaches and the lessons learned by those who have worked on new school projects and I have read some very helpful articles and books on the subject. Building our new school will, of course, take time, and we are yet to confirm where GHS will be based whilst our permanent building is constructed. We have been overwhelmed by the response of the more than 200 parents who took the time during the busy festive period to write to Lambeth Council to request support with our search. This demonstrated the depth of community feeling and colossal support for the school and we hope to bring you an update with some good news very shortly! The quality of the school building is, of course, very important but the success of the school is all about the people who work and learn within it. We are advertising for our first Assistant Headteacher this week and are very much looking forward to The Class of 2017 ‘Chasing Horizons’ Big Art Project over the next few weeks. We still have a few spaces remaining for children who have applied for a place at Gipsy Hill School for September – please sign up here.

06/01/2017
There is much to look forward to in 2017!

National Fair Funding Formula

Education Secretary Justine Greening announced the long-awaited findings of the Public Consultation on the National Fair Funding Formula (NFF) this week. The purpose of the NFF is to address inequalities in funding across the country. Currently, per-pupil funding in the best funded areas is up to 40% higher than in areas with the lowest funding. School leaders in London feared the worst. The huge success of education across London in the last decade has been well documented – at the turn of the century, London was one of the worst places to go to school but the city now stands head and shoulders above the rest of the country as the place where pupils achieve the best outcomes. We all know, however, that London is a very expensive place to live and pay has not kept pace with increases in the costs of living in recent years. A large cut to London schools’ funding would make it very difficult to maintain the incredibly high standard that has been set and to continue to improve. It looks as though Lambeth schools will face a 1.4% cut when the NFF is introduced in 2018. Whilst any cut makes it more difficult to be successful, this cut is not as large as we had feared. Luckily, Gipsy Hill School had already planned well ahead to absorb a much larger cut to make sure that we deliver on our promises to our students including our full curriculum offer and co-curricular activities. As a new school, we have several advantages. Because our school building will be new, it will have very low running and maintenance costs for many years. All of our equipment and infrastructure will be new and we’ve already carefully planned our ICT provision to ensure that we purchase fewer high quality devices that have a longer service life which can be replaced using our startup budget in our fifth year of operation. As a result of these factors, our costs will be much lower in the first ten years meaning we can put our resources into teaching and learning. Another huge advantage is being part of a large and successful Federation of schools. With shared costs for the whole range of support functions and services, Gipsy Hill School will make huge savings that can be used to keep our class sizes small, train our teachers and deliver our comprehensive co-Curricular programme for all of our students. No headteacher will be happy about a cut in funding but the result of the consultation does not mean that Gipsy Hill School’s provision will be compromised. I very much support recent campaigns to increase the total amount of funding that is available to schools because education, in the end, is what will make the greatest long term difference to the success and prosperity of our society. London remains a very popular place to live and the Federation, given its huge success and professional development opportunities is a very attractive place to work. Thank you to all parents who have recently contacted the Leader of Lambeth Council to request support for securing our site for 2017. If you have not yet had a chance to do so, please do send a letter letting the Leader know how much you support the school. I hope we will be able to bring you positive news early in the New Year! We have just a handful of places left on our Class of 2017 Big Art Project. Click here to if you would like to reserve a place for your child. James

16/12/2016
National Fair Funding Formula

Announcing The Class of 2017 Team Building Trip

We have made arrangements for our first whole-school co-Curricular activity this week following discussions with some of our Year 6 students earlier in the year about what type of activities be most helpful to help them settle into their new school. In mid-September next year, we will travel to the Brecon Beacons National Park in Wales for our three-day Class of 2017 Team Building Trip. All of our students and colleagues will be present and together we will participate in a range of activities designed to help students to get to know each other better and begin to form the bonds that will help them to feel comfortable at their new school. These include Raft Building, Mountain Walking, Canoeing and Orienteering. Outdoor Education can play a vital role in developing students’ self-esteem, practical problem-solving skills and physical and mental health and we are sure that all members of The Class of 2017 will benefit hugely from the experience. The trip will be heavily subsidised by the school to ensure that all of our students are able to attend. Mr Rogers and I will visit the venue next term to finalise precise details and we will confirm them to parents following National Offer Day on 1 March 2017.

09/12/2016
Announcing The Class of 2017 Team Building Trip
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