Reading is succeeding – and ‘Spark Night’

This year in school we’ve been spending a lot of time encouraging students to read. I’m hoping that regular readers of this blog will have noticed me mentioning it over the past few months, most recently here where I wrote about the ‘secrets’ of turning up and reading. Yesterday I was thrilled to be able to hand over a certificate and prize to the second student to successfully complete the ’16 before 16′ challenge, where students are set the target of reading 16 different books from a range of genres. The first to meet that ambitious goal was Year 11 student Holly, and the second was Year 8 student Amelie – a fantastic achievement for both students and especially for someone as young as Amelie.

One of the broader strategies we are using is to ask teachers all across the curriculum to spend time properly teaching key vocabulary. These might be subject specific words, or other words that will help students understand the courses they are studying. We’ve been really clear with teachers how to deliver this information, using a method called the ‘Frayer Models’. These all follow the same format and help students understand the meaning of the word, where the word has come from, what the different parts of the word mean and what other words mean the same, or the opposite, thing. The use of these models (often black and white slides shown on the whiteboard) is starting to become really common – maybe ask your son or daughter and see if they can remember any words they have learned and where? We’re starting to see the benefit across school as students can see the links between different words in different subjects, which is exactly the idea.

Finally, last week I wrote about extra curricular opportunities and our quality of ‘Spark’. I’m pleased to announce that tickets for the fantastic ‘Spark Night’ are now available here. Snap them up before they sell out!

Half term is coming up and I hope everyone has a great week. Maybe it’s a great chance for a young person to pick up a book…

Best wishes,

Joe Barker

Spark Fortnight

Across the school year we spend a fortnight at a time focusing on one element of the Marple Hall Spirit. Our school ethos is really important to us, and these ‘focus fortnights’ help to remind students and staff alike about the qualities of Determination, Honesty, Readiness, Respect and Spark that form the Marple Hall Spirit. We’re currently in the middle of the focus fortnight on ‘Spark‘, which is without doubt the most unique of our values. It’s the one that people always comment on when they come to visit, and it’s there to celebrate all the creative, inventive and brave things that only teenagers can do.

One great example of Spark is the annual school production, and the huge number of students who take part in one way or another. Next Autumn the school will be putting on ‘Bugsy Malone’, and to date we have a cast of 88, plus 6 student stage managers and many more who will be involved in make up, costume and front of house. It amazing that so many young people are passionate enough to take part these productions and wonderful that we’re able to give them these experiences. A huge amount of work is yet to go into the show and my appreciation for all the staff, students and parents involved is boundless.

Of course Spark isn’t solely about the school production. Students can show their spark in lessons, around school, in sports clubs, extra curricular clubs and beyond. Staff are especially on the lookout for examples of spark this fortnight, but it will always be a central part of our school culture.

Have a great weekend,

Joe Barker

Calling 12-18 years olds!

The Council for Disabled Children (CDC) are looking for disabled young people and young people with special educational needs aged 12 – 18 years old to be part of their young people’s advisory group FLARE. 

FLARE stands for Friendship, Learning, Achieve, Reach and Empower. FLARE represents the views and voices of disabled young people and young people with SEN all over England. 

FLARE works together to share their views and experiences to help the Department for Education and other teams to understand how disabled children and those with SEN want to receive the support and services they need. Being part of FLARE will mean participating in 6 meetings a year and feeding back to professionals about how to make positive changes to improve things for all disabled young people and young people with SEN. These meetings are held in-person in London, and the DCD will support the young people with their travel arrangements. 

Find out more and access application forms on the link below:

The deadline for applications is Friday 19th May at 5pm.

MHS Update 12/5/2023

I have three very different things to update the community on today – exams, cycling and school day timings.

1) Exams: The formal exams season begins on Monday for all students taking GCSE and other examinations. I know I speak for every single member of staff when I wish all students the very best of luck.

2) Cycling: Yesterday we sent home a letter (here) that is particularly relevant to the families of students in Years 7-10 who choose to cycle to school. We have quite a large community of students who come to school on their bikes, and this is something that we encourage as part of a healthy and sustainable lifestyle. However, over the past few months we have been concerned over the growing number of students who cycle to and from school without a wearing a helmet. Whilst wearing a helmet for cycling is not compulsory by UK law, it is of course highly recommended. Part of our job as a school is to help keep children safe, and also to help them develop safe habits for the future. Therefore from the half term holiday in June onwards we will only allow students to bring bikes onto site if they are wearing a helmet, and will only allow them to take their bikes home at the end of the day if they are wearing a helmet. As a keen cyclist myself I think that this is a very sensible move, and I am sure many parents and carers will agree.

3) Timings of the school day: Also yesterday we sent home a letter confirming that the timings of the school day will be lengthened from September 2023. Last year, as part of the Covid response, the Department for Education set a minimum expected school week of 32.5 hours and gave schools until September 2023 to be compliant. There are some good reasons for this decision by the DfE, but also some flaws in the detail – for example the total time calculated includes break and lunchtimes, and so schools like MHS with only one hour of break and lunch combined are currently under the 32.5 hour limit, but may actually offer the same or more lesson time than ‘compliant’ schools who have longer lunches. Whilst this expectation is not statutory, and so in theory MHS could carry on with our current shorter week, we made the decision like many other schools to change our school day in order to benefit students. Rather than just extend break or lunch, which would seem like a ‘cheat’, we have taken the opportunity to mainly increase learning time in the school by 105 minutes per week (15 minutes more in form time, 90 minutes more in lessons). I know that the new timings will take some getting used to, and whilst the decision has been made parents and carers are welcome to send in any comments or concerns to Details of the change can be found here.

Have a great weekend,


How to succeed at school

I had a conversation with a student in Year 9 earlier this term. They were not having the best of days, and as I happened to have a few minutes to spare I decided to sit and listen to the young person and see if I could help them get back on track. I listened for a bit, empathised with some of their problems, spoke a bit about how they can help themselves and then they got back to class. All in all, it was a useful conversation and it helped be build a relationship with a student with whom, up to that point, I didn’t really know.

During the conversation the student revealed that they didn’t know how to ‘do’ school and asked me what the secret to success is. I gave a reasonable answer (I think) at the time, but later on I formulated what I wish I had said. After 22 years as a teacher (I know, I know, surely I’m not old enough?) I can safely say that the secret comes down to two things. Simple in some ways, but complex for those who find either of these things difficult.

Secret number 1Turn up. Everything else being the same, the student who turns up more often will succeed more in school, however you want to measure success. If you/your child’s/your relatives’ attendance is under 98% then the number one priority is to help them to turn up more often. 90% attendance is not good, 95% is just about ok, but anything under 98% needs work if you don’t want attendance to hold a student back.

Secret number 2 – Read. Reading, and especially reading fiction, makes kids more successful in school. It’s great for vocabulary, for contextual knowledge, for cultural capital, for writing skills and for mental wellbeing. Again, all other things being equal, the student who reads more will succeed more.

That’s it really. That’s what I wanted to tell that Year 9 student, and every student for that matter. Turn up and Read. Turn up and Read. Turn up and Read…

Have a great long weekend,


Marple Hall School
Hill Top Drive
Stockport SK6 6LB Headteacher: Mr Joe Barker
Tel: 0161 427 7966
Fax: 0161 426 0931