Lifelong Literacy

My blog is a day earlier than usual this week given the fact that students are not in school tomorrow, and return to school on Tuesday 6th December.

Staff are taking part in training tomorrow in support of our ambitious ‘Lifelong Literacy’ plan, a concerted three year project that will transform our school offer and make sure that every young person completes their time at MHS being fully literate. We aim to create fluent and passionate readers who benefit from a broad and deep vocabulary, confident speakers and talented writers. These skills are right up there as the most important skills anyone can possess, and we are determined to give this important work our full attention until we get it right.

The first year of the plan has been dedicated to reading and vocabulary, and we have already made some great strides in improving the one to one support for young people who have not yet learnt to read fluently. This is of course so important for study at secondary school, and a basic entitlement for all people. Secondly we have been making a concerted effort to really focus on core vocabulary in every subject, from English through to Maths. Teachers have embraced this idea and now barely a day goes by without me seeing a class unpicking the origin and make up of words, helping students to understand their meaning and spot patterns between words in completely different subjects. This exciting work is already having an impact, with students growing more and more confident in decoding and understanding ‘difficult’ words themselves, building independence and a great understanding of how all learning is connected together through language.

We’re not even a term into a minimum nine-term project, but so far the Lifelong Literacy plan is proving invaluable.

Have a great weekend,

Joe Barker

Kindness, Respect and Anti-Bullying

Kindness, Respect and Anti-Bullying

This week I have had the privilege of speaking to every year group on the very important topic of bullying. Within the framework of our ‘Marple Hall Spirit’, and specifically under the heading of Respect, I outlined what that means to me and the importance of showing kindness to others.

As usual, students were happy to contribute to my assemblies and quite rightly identified that bullying is where someone repeatedly and deliberately tries to hurt someone physically or emotionally. Being sad, or falling out with someone, or having a one-off argument does not necessarily mean that someone is being bullied. But, being the target of deliberate and repeated abuse – especially where there is an imbalance of power – is absolutely a sign of bullying. Our school ethos makes bullying fairly rare, but even one occasion is too many. I was honest in my assembly and pointed out that bullying is, sadly, something that happens in society both in schools and in adult life. I know that it happens at MHS, but I also know that we always take reports of bullying seriously. On many occasions we are successful in resolving issues, on other occasions we don’t succeed straight away, but that doesn’t mean we’ve ‘done nothing’ especially when situations can be very complicated indeed.

What I do know for certain though is that only by working as a community can we truly put a stop to bullying behaviour. I genuinely believe that society has moved on from when I was a child, and it is now absolutely taboo to be a bully. No-one likes to be accused of it, and often complain loudly and passionately even when the evidence is clear. As a school community we can use this feeling for good. Staff and parents have a big role to play, but students themselves can have a huge impact here, and I have seen it happen when whole year groups take a stand and don’t allow bullies to prosper.

That was the main message of my assembly. I believe in the power of kindness, the strength of kindness and the courage of our young people to speak out and to support those around them. When a whole school community stands together in calling out bullying behaviour, then that behaviour stops, and that is what I want for MHS.

Have a good weekend,

Joe Barker

Ps Remember, INSET next Friday (2nd) and Monday (5th) December, no students in school!

The Children are the Future

Somebody said that once, right?

Over the course of the last couple of weeks I have found myself involved in really thought provoking discussions with different groups of students. I’ve covered a couple of lessons with a Year 11 History class, another with a Year 10 Geography class and of course taught my own Year 11 History class too. For one reason or another the work has led us into big discussions about how school works, how the world works and how leaders have to make big decisions when often all the options are ‘bad’. It’s an accepted fact now that the younger generation are interested in climate change – they are arguably leading the world in raising this issue – but we mustn’t overlook their interest in politics, economics and leadership either.

Today with my class we have been debating the political spectrum of views, from far left to far right and everything in between. Bringing that topic to life is so easy, as it basically relates to everything that matters. Health, wealth and happiness are all covered in one quick run through of political views. Students were quickly able to place themselves on the spectrum and argue for and against other points of view. We also discussed why in modern politics it can often feel like there is no real choice from one party to another, as most politicians fight for the middle ground. Also…and I haven’t really faced this problem in the last 20 years, but trying to explain why a traditionally ‘low-tax, low spend’ Conservative government signed off of furlough, the energy price cap and a significant rise in taxes is a little tricky!

In the other two lessons that I took for colleagues, my conversations were largely about school funding and how every school is facing challenges through rapidly rising costs and unfunded pay awards. Students asked me questions about how funding for school works, why not all schools are funded equally and what happens when/if the money runs out. I could confidently answer the first question, I have never properly understood the second (mainly as MHS is so poorly funded compared to similar schools elsewhere) and my honest answer to the third was we’ll have to wait and see. As I write this I’m hearing that school funding is increasing again next year, which is of course welcome, so perhaps we’ll be able to keep the lights on a little bit longer!

As always, I have no preference for one political party over another, and I always stress that to students. I am though filled with hope and joy that young people care so much about the world that they live in and how it operates. They are indeed the future and perhaps we should trust them more to start making the big decisions. After all, they are the ones with the biggest stake in the game.

Have a good weekend,

Joe Barker

They Rocked Us!

A week or so ago I mentioned the school production that was taking place this week, ‘We Will Rock You’. I have just come home after seeing the show on the closing night and all I can say is ‘Wow!’

It was a fantastic experience, a true showcase of the creative talent that lives at Marple Hall School and an example to everyone of what can be achieved when hard working people come together. The acting, the singing, the dancing, the comedy were all so good, all framed within stunning sets, great costumes, incredibly professional music, wonderful make-up, brilliant sound and lighting and great back stage support. I’m fully aware that I’m a completely unreliable witness and I’m totally biased, but in my opinion it more than rivalled the professional version of the same show I saw in Manchester four or five years ago. I’m just sad that anyone reading this, and didn’t get to go, has now completely missed it!

Throughout the week the cast has performed the show six times, twice a day for three days. It’s brilliant that so many friends and family could see it, but I’m also excited by the fact that hundreds of primary aged children saw the show on Tuesday and Wednesday, and our whole Year 9 got to see it this afternoon. I was teaching at the time so couldn’t see their reaction, but I know that they lapped it up and loved it as much as I did tonight. Of course the hope is that this will light a fire of ambition inside a year 9, or year 6, or year 5, and that as a result we’ll see that young person on stage one day.

I worry sometimes about the students who just come to school for the core hours. The form time, the lessons and the lunch…and nothing else. This show, along with seeing all the sports teams practicing and playing since September, brought it home to me what we lost during Covid and what absolutely must get back.

Have a great weekend,

Joe Barker

MHS update 4/11/2022

MHS update 4/11/2022

For a couple of years my weekly blogs were dominated by covid and as a result were often fairly practical in nature. Just twelve months ago we were still operating partial one-way systems, sitting in well ventilated (ie freezing) classrooms and asking everyone to wear ‘masks on the move’. Happily there’s no need to any of those things now and therefore my blogs can usually return to what they were always meant to be – a little snapshot into life at school. However, as you’ll see, today’s blog is a bit of a mixture.

Firstly, a big ‘shout out’ to everyone involved in final preparations for next week’s school performance of ‘We Will Rock You’. I know that a huge amount of effort has gone in so far and that the cast and crew are working flat out, and I can’t wait to see Bradshaw Hall buzzing next week.

Secondly, advance warning to parents and carers that we’re planning on making a small change to how we manage movement around Bradshaw building. This is the main building housing English, Maths, Humanities and Creative arts, and when it is busy it is VERY busy. As our school gets more and more numerous, and more classrooms are created on corridors that remain stubbornly narrow, I have been concerned about quite how busy some of the corridors and entrances are getting. Therefore shortly we are going to reintroduce one of the old covid measures and restrict access to Bradshaw building to two doors only. This might sound counter-productive, but actually this is much easier to manage safely and will ensure that students can get to their lessons more easily. I’ll be speaking to students about this next week before the change happens.

Thirdly, as you’ll know from an email yesterday from Miss Gregory, we have taken the decision to temporarily ban ‘Prime’ drinks in school. These hard-to-come-by drinks are incredibly popular amongst some teenagers and are being sold on for greatly inflated prices, causing unnecessary arguments in school as well as pressure on youngsters to be seen with them having spent well over the odds. As impressive as the ‘Prime’ marketing strategy may be, we don’t need any more distractions in school and so for now at least the drinks will be confiscated if seen. I know that not everyone will agree with this approach, but I hope you can support what we are trying to do.

Finally, and this will only affect a small number of students, we are going to track much more closely when a student leaves a lesson for any reason. We know that attendance in school is the single biggest factor in how much students learn, and so it makes sense to also assume that the amount of time a student spends in lessons during the school day is also very important. Whilst the vast majority of students are in class all the time, some students are not and miss too much learning time. This might be them going to the toilet several times a day, visiting first aid, attending internal appointments or a wide range of other reasons. Next week I’ll be speaking to colleagues about how we will be doing this, and will then inform students and parents of the new processes.

That’s it for now, I’m off to see some students play the ukulele.

Best wishes

Joe Barker

Reading is Succeeding

As we come towards the end of the first half term of the year, and with students getting some more time to themselves next week, I wanted to highlight the importance of reading and just one way that we as a school are trying to promote reading amongst students.

Research into education and children’s progress is very clear on the benefits of reading, including reading for pleasure. Students gain a greater breadth of knowledge, they learn to use more words in their writing, they can take in more information independently and can become more confident and articulate speakers. I’ve been teaching History to GCSE and previously A-Level standard for over 22 years, and I can always tell which students are keen readers just by looking at their written work. Reading literally broadens a child’s outlook and boosts their future potential, as well as being fantastic for their wellbeing and general happiness. What’s not to love?!

At school we’ve always encouraged a love of reading and have developed a great resource for students who want to pick up a great e-book for free. Our ‘Hub Online’ has almost 2,500 titles for students and staff to choose from, including hundreds of audio books which can be a great way for people to ‘get back into reading’. This week we emailed home to parents and carers a reminder of how the Hub can be accessed. I know that to many teenagers the appeal of social media or games consoles can be much stronger than that of a book, but when parents/carers and school can get a young person reading then great things can happen.

Happy reading, and have a great half term!

Joe Barker

Honesty Fortnight

During the second half of last school year we spent a lot of time reminding our school community of the ‘Marple Hall Spirit’, the five qualities that we most admire and most want to see people displaying.

One way to keep the ‘spirit’ alive is to focus on a different element at a time. This year we’ll be picking one aspect per half term for the first five half terms of the year, starting this week with ‘Honesty’. Miss Gregory and Mr Follett have lead assemblies on this feature this week, and staff are handing out ‘honesty’ postcards to students when they spot something good.

As I myself said in assemblies in the spring, at MHS ‘Honesty’ is much more than just telling the truth. Honesty is about taking responsibility, understanding your own strengths and weaknesses, seeking help when you need it and standing up for what matters. As our definition of ‘Honesty’ states, we want people to ‘do what is right, not what is easy’. Being a teenager is hard, with so many distractions and temptations, but every day I see young people acting with integrity and bravery and maturity. Together they set the standard for others to follow and they give me an enormous amount of hope for the future.

Have a great weekend,

Joe Barker

World Teacher Day

Wednesday this week was World Teacher Day, one of a couple of days each year that are geared towards recognising those who work in education. To me of course it’s not just about teachers – roughly half of all my colleagues are not teachers, and the work that they do in school is every bit as important. That small point aside, I like these days that encourage people to take a moment to think about those who work in education. Our jobs are a privilege of course, but like many vocations they can also be challenging and demanding. Many of my colleagues regularly go above and beyond the call of duty and I certainly appreciate it, as I know our students do too.

From time to time we remind students that there are ways to show appreciation to those adults who help them out in school. To be honest they don’t really need a reminder, and I am always struck by how many of our students thank their teachers as they leave a class. It’s the small things that make a difference.

This week, if they want to, students have been filling in postcards to say a thank you to any members of staff who they feel particularly grateful to. It’s been lovely to see the cards being handed out and the way in which they are appreciated by members of staff. It’s a sign that even in a school as large as MHS, positive personal connections and mutual respect is there. Whilst many colleagues got plenty of postcards I was very pleased to get one from a lad in my Year 11 class. On it he reminded me of a time last week when, in a welcome but rare display of leadership (for him), this young man took charge of a moment of debate in the lesson. When I dared to question what he was doing he replied authoritatively ‘Sir, please sit down and be quiet whilst I am teaching the class’. I duly did as I was told. But, when he was taking too long to start work in our lesson yesterday, I took great delight in using his own words against him. To be fair, he took it very well. Working with teenagers can be great sometimes!

Have a good weekend and thanks to all the educationalists out there, wherever you are.

Joe Barker

Support for Year 11 students and their parents/carers

This summer we celebrated great exam results for our class of 2022. I’m a firm believer that there is more to life than GCSE results, and at MHS we value the all round education of students more than just grades on a certificate, but we also know that qualifications matter and we will always support students to reach their potential. The class of 2022 had to cope with the disruption of their school years 9 and 10, as well as take on the first set of national exams since 2019. As I have said before we were really proud of their attitude and determination, and many students rightly did amazingly well.

The class of 2023 (the new Year 11s) also suffered great disruption to their studies, and they too will be facing a ‘first’ since covid. Unlike last year, where most subjects were reduced in size to compensate for Covid, the class of 2023 will be taking on the full specifications. A new challenge but one that I am confident our students will rise to. On Wednesday this week we held the first of our ‘Pomodoro’ revision sessions – independent study for two hours after school – and a record 170 students attended of their own accord. That’s a significant sign that these students mean business, almost a full year out from the exams.

Expert support for Year 11 students and parents/carers

We know that Year 11 is stressful for both students and parents/carers alike, and so we are really pleased be able to bring back a really positive event that went down incredibly well pre Covid. We have organised a fantastic outside speaker – Lisa Wisher from ‘Bright Futures’  – to discuss the best ways parents/carers can support their child’s mental health throughout Year 11. Our fantastic Senior Assistant Headteacher Lyn Lawton will also provide key information our revision programme. I thoroughly recommend the session to anyone with a Year 11 student living in their house!

Places at this event are likely to be very popular and over 60 have already gone, so please sign up HERE as soon as possible to secure your ticket. It’s free but is ticket-only due to demand!

Best wishes

Joe Barker

Open Evening 2022

I’m quite disciplined in when I write my blog – usually either a Thursday evening or a Friday morning. Occasionally I write my blog late at night after a school event, such as a school production, or in this case the 2022 Open Evening.

Covid meant that we haven’t been able to hold a real-life Open Evening since 2019, three long years ago. Tonight’s event was therefore special for more than one reason, and I was thrilled to see how vibrant and exciting the school felt. Despite the persistent rain, upwards of 500 families joined us over the evening and all three of the talks in the hall were standing room only. The staff put on a great display in each subject and were ably assisted by almost 200 student helpers and guides. There was an overwhelmingly positive feeling from so many people and it was lovely to bump into a great many parents who already have children at the school, but who due to the pandemic we haven’t seen in years.

So, thank you to my colleagues, the students and everybody who attended our 2022 Open Evening. It was a really special evening and made me prouder than ever to work at our wonderful MHS.

Have a great weekend,

Joe Barker

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