Summer 2024

I know that the term hasn’t ended yet, far from it. There is Spark Evening tonight followed by Spark day tomorrow, both celebrations of the creative spirit that lives at MHS. After that, we have the small matter of 300 students on work experience, about 450 away on trips and another 450 taking part in a range of activities during enrichment week…all before we come back together as a school for the final morning on Friday 19th July. There is definitely lots still to do!

However, as this is my last blog of the year I will run through a few highlights of the year for me:

This year, MHS student have bucked the national trend are attending school significantly more regularly than is the average. This is massive. School attendance, coupled with reading, is the biggest indicator of how successful a student will be. Attendance at MHS is high and improving, and that is a very good sign indeed.

Linked to that, our work on promoting reading is really starting to bear fruit. Reading is the most essential of all skills when it comes to learning, and reading fiction in particular enables students to boost their learning power. We’re two years in to our determined effort to increase the amount that students read, and that is without doubt having a positive impact on many.

Our current Year 11 students, those who finished their exams last month, are on track to be the most successful cohort of students ever at MHS. Their attitude, determination and resilience shone through in the exam window and I have everything crossed for them that they get the grades in the summer that they absolutely deserve.

We have greatly enhanced our extra curricular offer, from sports to creative arts to clubs…and especially this year the advent of new online ‘digital discoveries’. Hundreds of students have taken part in them, enriching their experience of school,

Our school has a yearly admission limit of 300 and remains heavily over subscribed with 731 first, second and third choice preferences for the incoming class of Year 7 students in 2024. This did not always used to the be case, and is perhaps the one of the strongest signs that we’re getting plenty of things right.

We’re blessed with a fantastically hard working, dedicated and professional staff body, and this year like all others I remain grateful and astonished at the way that colleagues go above and beyond on a regular basis. Sometimes working in a school is a thankless task, and I know how lucky we are to have such a talented and selfless staff team working here. We have also made some excellent appointments for the new school year and I look forward to working with all our new colleagues.

And let’s not forget, in September Ofsted came to visit MHS for the first inspection in five years. The team were thorough, rigorous and exacting – inspections are never easy – and they concluded that we deserved the very best outcome that our school could achieve with the type of inspection we had: ‘the inspection grade might be outstanding if a graded (section 5) inspection were carried out now’

And finally, we do all of that on the bare minimum of funding. MHS is one of the worst funded secondary schools in the country, attracting the minimum level of funding per student of around £6,050 compared to a ‘Department for Education’ average for the country of around £7,500. That’s a lot of money when multiplied by 1556 students….somewhere in the region of £2.25 Million per year. I’m very proud of what we do with our poor funding, but I’d rather be able to invest the same in our young people as other school leaders can do, and I will be renewing my campaign for fairer funding in the new year. As we have a new MP in the area, perhaps parents and carers might want to do the same?

Have a great summer when it comes,

Joe Barker

Summer reading challenge!

As we approach the final two weeks of the year, and as this is the penultimate blog of 2023-2024, I wanted to return to the well worn path of reading.

There are two things that determine success at school above all others. 1) Good attendance, and 2) Reading for pleasure. In other words, turn up and read. I don’t want to oversimplify the mystery and magic of learning, but the research is clear that these two elements have the biggest impact on a student’s progress in school.

That’s why this summer we are setting all our students a summer reading challenge. Mrs Lawton, one of our reading experts, has specially selected twelve short stories suitable for children of different ages. Six for students who will be in Years 8 and 9 in September, and six for those who will be in Years 10 and 11. The challenge is to read them all – the main prize of course being the joy of reading and the benefit to a child’s education…but there are also some more tangible prizes on offer too. We’re including our new Year 7 students in the challenge too, as everyone who attended the transition day yesterday received their own reading challenge booklet on the theme of ‘Villains’.

Mrs Lawton will share all the information about the challenge, including how to access these texts for free, via email to parents/carers. She has also arranged for a video message to go to every form group, and a set of the following cards to be handed out too.

The summer is long…but if you want to encourage your young person to do one thing to keep their brain ticking over then perhaps encourage them to complete this challenge.

Best wishes

Joe Barker

Moving on, Moving up!

Firstly, huge thanks to everyone who took the opportunity last week to ‘thank a teacher’ (or any member of staff) by visiting this website: I know that colleagues really appreciate these small tokens of thanks and it’s not too late…hint hint!

This week we are saying goodbye to the wonderful class of 2024 as they move on from MHS. On Tuesday we had a brilliant final morning, with the year group and their staff coming together in Bradshaw Hall for a celebration of their time at the school. It was lovely to see so many students their, proudly showing off their beautifully decorated school shirts before then taking part in the legendary MHS foam fight. Everyone was in great spirits and I thoroughly enjoyed the heart warming events.

Later this evening the staff and I will have the privilege of gate crashing the class of 2024 Prom at the Concorde lounge at Manchester airport. It’s always a fantastic event and it’s a real pleasure to be able to say goodbye to the year group in style. All that will be left then will be the small matter of the exam results in August, but I am sure that this particular cohort will do just fine. They have brought a lot to our school over the years from a covid affected Year 7 through to a mature and hard working Year 11. I will not be the only member of staff by a long way who will miss them all.

But…school goes on…which brings me to moving up!

This week Mr Sharp and Miss Davies have been speaking to the remaining year groups in assembly to explain that as of Monday next week, they will have ‘moved up’ to the next school year. Year 7 will be Year 8, Year 8 will be Year 9 and so on. It’s a symbolic moment as everyone gets their heads around starting afresh in September, hopefully resetting their plans and expectations and renewing a determination to do the best that they can. The moving up process can take a little getting used to, especially for the new Year 10s who have to adapt to the later KS4 breaks and lunches, but it’s an important part of the MHS journey.

Finally, a reminder that Friday 28th June is a staff training day. Staff will be in school but students have the day off.

I hope that everyone has a great weekend,

Joe Barker

National ‘Thank a Teacher’ day

I’m sending this week’s blog a few days early to correspond with National Thank a Teacher Day which takes place tomorrow, Wednesday 19th June. We’re amazingly lucky at MHS to have a wonderful school community, and it’s a regular thing for students to thank their teachers and staff at the end of lessons. When year groups leave, as is the case next week with Year 11, it’s a common sight to see students bringing in gifts for colleagues who have supported them over the years. So, I guess what I’m trying to say is, that we don’t necessarily need a ‘day’ where school staff are thanked.

But…it’s always nice to take part in such things and I know how special it is when young people or parents/carers send messages in to my colleagues. It gives everyone a boost and makes people feel appreciated for the great jobs that they do every day. Working in schools is in itself very rewarding and there’s nothing I’d rather do, but it’s also very hard at times and (sadly) becoming a less attractive prospect for many. Therefore receiving a little note of thanks can make all the difference.

If any student, parent, carer, family member or colleague wants to send in a little thank you note, then you can do so using this link

It’s completely free, takes about two minutes, and messages can be sent to individual staff (not just teachers!), staff teams or the whole school. As long as you know the name of the recipient you can arrange for a message to go directly to them by inputting the email address as ‘’, or if you’re not sure then there’s the option to use the ‘info@’ address too.

It would be lovely to hear about a flood of thank-yous coming in over the next few days!

Have a great rest of the week,

Joe Barker

Confirmation of Term Dates 2024-2025

Three months ago the school opened a consultation to make a change to the published term dates for the 2024-2025 academic year. The original consultation information can be see here. Following the end of the consultation the responses were analysed and then discussed by the Governing Body.

There were 66 responses in total. The large majority of responses were in favour of the change (89%), with a minority being against the change (8%). The remaining 3% of responses did not give an opinion. Having considered the responses the Governing Body have decided to approve the change, and the term dates will therefore be as follows for next year. All other dates remain unchanged to those already published.

End of the Autumn Term: Students will be expected in school up to and including Friday 20th December 2024. This is one day later than the original published term dates. As is tradition, school will close early on the final day of term with students leaving at 12.30pm.

Start of the Spring Term: Students will be expected back in school on Monday 6th January 2025. This is two days later than the original published term dates, as a staff INSET day will take place on Friday 3rd January.

I appreciate that changing term dates after they are published online is never ideal, and I am sorry for any inconvenience caused. However, I am confident that in the main this change is both sensible and in the best interests of the school community. We will continue to communicate this change in the run up to the Christmas period 2024 so as to make sure no-one is caught out.

Best wishes,

Joe Barker

Looking ahead to Spark Day

If you’ve visited our website recently you’ll have seen the ‘pop up’ advertising our Spark Night taking place on Thursday 11th July. It’s always a great event I hope to see lots of people there.

However, Spark Night is only half the story. The following day will see Spark Day taking place on the school grounds, a massive event where students work together as form groups to put on stalls, lay on entertainment, take part in fun competitions and generally show their creativity. We’ve run several Spark Days now, both before and after Covid, and I’m really looking forward to this year’s edition. As well as having a good time, Spark Day is all about making money for good causes. We’ll be donating 50% of the proceeds to local charity, and spending the other 50% supporting extra curricular activities within school. But…and this is the crucial thing…Spark Day is a CASHLESS event. Students will be able to spend tokens on the day, bought in advance via School Gateway. All the details on how to order tokens in bundles of £2, £5 and £10 can be seen on this letter here, and I wanted to give families plenty of notice in the hope that everyone has the chance to buy some tokens and take part.

Have a great weekend,

Joe Barker

Happy half-term

I’m writing this blog on a very wet Friday morning in late May, at a time when I think it’s been raining pretty much constantly for 48 hours. As a Yorkshireman moving to Manchester in 2009 I always knew it’s a bit wetter on the wrong side of the Pennines, but the weather this week has been simply unacceptable! We’re a day away from the ‘summer’ half term break and I very much hope conditions improve for everyone’s sake…although perhaps some unseasonably cold temperatures will mean that our GCSE students are more likely to spend time revising and not sunbathing, so it’s not all bad!

This week, as the class of 2024 continue to work incredibly hard on their exams, students in Years 7-10 have heard presentations from our extra curricular leaders in assembly. As Mr Osgood, Miss Ditchfield and Miss Griffies explained, we now have a fantastic range of extra-curricular activities on offer for students to experience. Not only traditional clubs, but a menu of seventeen ‘digital discoveries’ too which are a great way for people to dip into a new skill or two. The team also shared our plans for ‘Spark Night’ and ‘Spark Day’ 2024, two events in July that promise to be bigger and better than ever. Like most things in life, the more you put in the more you get out, and that’s certainly true about school. Dive in and take part!

Have a great week everyone,

Best wishes,

Joe Barker

Turning up is more than half the battle

One of the themes of my blogs this year has been to highlight the important of regular attendance to school. Good attendance (alongside reading good quality fiction) is the best way to guarantee success in school. The correlation between attendance percentages and academic progress (at any ability level) is amazingly close…basically, the more a student turns up to school the better they will do.

Now I’ll be honest. Before Covid, attendance rates at MHS were slightly below the national average. It was something we were working hard on without a great deal of success. Since Covid, the rates of attendance at all schools have dropped across the country. I am sure there are loads of reasons for this, but the basic fact remains that better attendance equals better outcomes for young people, and so raising attendance is front and centre of our work. Missing a day here and there really does matter, as it breaks the flow in learning and makes it harder for students to keep up.

The good news, unlike before Covid, is that attendance at MHS is now comfortably above the national average and is improving as the year goes on. The picture here shows the weekly attendance of MHS students in pink, versus the average secondary school attendance across the country in grey. We’re well ahead, which is GREAT, but we’re still lower in terms of our overall attendance compared to 2019. As we say here, ‘better never stops’ and so we’ll continue to push good attendance for all learners. After all, the secrets to success are to ‘turn up and read, turn up and read and turn up and read‘.

Finally, a belated congratulations from me for the U13 girls football team who were crowned Stockport League Champions at Edgeley Park last week, with a 3-0 win over Cheadle Hulme High School. It’s a fantastic achievement! Well done too to all our sports teams over the year – especially the U15 girls for falling only at the very last hurdle in their own final last night.

Have a great weekend,

Joe Barker

Now is the time

Five years, 200 school weeks, 1000 days (give or take a few)…that’s the length of a secondary school journey from day one in Year 7 to the end of Year 11. Our current Year 11 cohort are not quite at the end yet, but the final chapter officially began yesterday. Small groups of students sat exams in Religious Studies, Drama and Italian on Thursday, and today the whole cohort enter the process with Biology, the first of the core subject exams. Our students deserve to do really well – the vast majority have worked their socks off over the years, especially this year, and I wish them all the very best indeed.

As the exam season unfolds then students will get into the rhythm of revision and exams, and what appears daunting now will become more and more normal. If I can impart two last pieces of advice it would be these:

  1. Sleep. At this stage, sleep is more beneficial than last minute cramming. The teenage brain is a wonderful thing, but the magic happens most when the teenager is asleep. Learning is embedded ready for use when needed, and so sleep is king.
  2. Never leave a question blank. Never! It doesn’t matter how daft or silly the answer given might be, just never ever ever leave a question blank. The only way to guarantee zero marks is to write nothing, so always write something. Trust me, I know what I’m talking about!

Six school weeks from now the exam season will be over and what will be done will be done. I know that the whole team here in school is rooting for every student sitting exams, and we will offer all the support that we possibly can. Good luck everyone!

Best wishes,

Joe Barker

Camera phone safety

Every now and again the Government talks about how schools should take a firm line with mobile phones, encouraging tough policies to ensure that phones are not a distraction to learning and are not used negatively during social times. Whilst part of me wishes the Government would issue a blanket nation-wide ban on student use of phones in school (as is the case in some countries), I do 100% agree that schools need to be firm on this issue and allow no grey areas. I’ve visited perhaps 15 other secondary schools in the past 18 months and every time I go out, I am even more convinced that our mobile phone rules at MHS are absolutely right. Students are welcome to have mobile phones in their possession at our school, and we don’t ask them to be locked away in special lockers each morning like some schools, but they must not be seen or heard at all when a student is inside our school gates. If a phone is seen or heard then it is confiscated, a policy enforced by every member of staff, and the phone is only returned to a responsible adult. It’s a very simple rule and an effective one, and one that I know has had an impact on learning, behaviour, student wellbeing and in a reduction of online bullying. I am aware that the policy can be annoying to some parents and carers at times, but I stand by it as being one of the most transformative things we have done in the 11-ish years I have been Headteacher. I will always remain very grateful for the support of families with this policy, as together it is making a difference.

However, no matter what safeguards we put in place at school or at home, we as adults need to be mindful that the camera-phone can be a danger to the teenager who uses it. The BBC reported this week that the authorities had taken the unusual step of asking schools to warn students about the dangers of voluntarily sharing explicit images of themselves. The article is here. It is a timely reminder that we need to keep impressing on young people that they should never share such images of themselves online. Once the images are out there, they can never be deleted. So often young people believe in or trust the person that they are sending pictures to, only to have that trust broken with serious consequences. More and more, criminals are now deliberately targeting teenagers and young adults in the hopes of exploiting their shame and embarrassment for money. For that reason we as a school will carry on making our students aware of the dangers of voluntarily sharing images online, and I’m sure that parents and carers will do the same.

Best wishes,

Joe Barker

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