The Business End of the Season

As a PE teacher and lifelong Manchester United fan (no I’m not from Manchester but my Dad supported them since the 1960’s so there is a family tradition), I always find this time of the academic year to be akin to the closing weeks of the football season.

Sir Alex Ferguson famously referred to ‘squeaky bum time’ meaning the supporters were on the edge of their seats as each match came to the final few minutes as they were willing the team to hold on to the lead.

For the staff at Ernesford this time of year is our time to feel anxious, we are the supporters of every young person who is about to sit an exam whether it is a GCSE, BTEC or A Level qualification, we have seen our young people ‘train’ all year for their moment, sitting in the exam hall, performing at their peak and it is at that stage we can have no more influence on their outcomes.

That said, the exams don’t ‘kick-off’ for another 2 months, so now is the time to fine tune that ‘training’, increase the intensity and volume, reduce the periods of rest whilst making sure our students get just the right balance of quality revision and well-deserved relaxation.  Whilst we can influence the work ethic of our students while they are in school, it is much harder to influence how much effort they put into their studies at home.

This is where you, the parents and carers, can have a significant influence.  However, I realise that encouraging a teenager to spend quality time revising, researching and rehearsing is not a simple task, especially with the plethora of issues that encourage the high level of procrastination that is all too familiar (to all of us, not just the children!).

So, what follows in this blog is a selection of 10 top tips that will help you to help your child stay on the pathway to revision success rather than entering the perils of procrastination as demonstrated in the all too familiar scenario in this clip:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4P785j15Tzk

10 Top Tips for Parents/Carers:

1 – Remove the most obvious distractions of modern day technology which is often more of a hindrance than a help when a young person is trying to study i.e. take their mobile phone/iPad/tablet/any device that connects to the internet from them.  It may be just for 30-40 minutes at a time, but by doing this you are enabling them to focus solely on their studies.

2 – Ensure that they have a quiet area in which to study, away from the distractions of noise and that includes the television and radio.  As complex as the human brain is, research shows that if you listen to music whilst revising the brain cannot concentrate on both elements at once so the music is detracting from the studying.

3– Make sure your child has regular breaks.  Chunking their revision into blocks of time with 15 minute rest periods is far more effective than studying for hours on end.  30 minutes working with a 10-15minute break and then another 30-minute block of study is a good place to start.

4– Check that your child has a copy of all the revision guides on offer from the school.  Almost all subjects provide revision materials at a reduced price so make sure your child has a copy of everything they need.  If in doubt, contact your child’s Head of House who will check what they should have.

5 – Revision strategies – reading, making notes and highlighting are actually the least effective strategies for revision.  Instead, your child should be testing themselves with quizzes, questions and practicing from past exam papers (even though there are new exams now, old question papers are still useful).

6 – Learning key words and equations is vital and you should ask your child to give you a list of key words they need to know for each of their subjects with the definitions, so you can test them daily.

7 – Ask your child to explain what topics they are revising and then ask them to give you more detail.  You don’t need to know anything about the subject, you can just keep asking them to explain until you understand!

8 – Avoid cramming sessions – trying to study in one large block just before an exam is a recipe for increasing anxiety.  Revision should be taking place weeks in advance of the exam so your child has time to learn and re-learn key concepts and information.  The diagram below shows that after one day of revision only 50% of information is retained, whereas revisiting every day for 4 days means far more information is retained.

9 – Eat well, sleep well – By providing a healthy diet with plenty of green vegetables, fruit and water-based drinks you will be supporting your child to feel fresh and well energised at what will be the most mentally demanding time of their young life so far.  Ensuring that they go to bed at a reasonable hour, by 10pm and without their mobile phone and aiming for at least 8 hours of sleep will have a significant impact on how much information their brain can retain.

10 – Believe in them and show as much interest and encouragement as you can.  Your child will get the grades that reflect the amount of time and effort they have put into their studies, by telling them how much you believe in them and how proud you are of all the work they are doing you will be reinforcing a positive mindset.

So, as that ‘squeaky bum time’ of the exam season draws ever nearer it is vital to remember that if we want the best results we have to work for them. Whatever your goal in life, it is effort and determination that will lead to success. When my all-time footballing hero, Eric Cantona, arrived at Old Trafford he did something no player had done before, he asked Alex Ferguson if he could stay out after training to do some extra practice.

The other players, none of whom were as good as Eric looked on in amazement before realising that the reason Cantona was such an incredible player was because he put in the hours of practice.  That moment changed the culture of Manchester United because every young player from that point on started staying out after training to practice too.

They realised the power of practice, of repeating a skill, developing their understanding and putting themselves through more work than the rest of the players in the Premier League.  Our students can achieve the same success this year and beyond through effort, determination and ‘training’ harder and for longer than the rest of the Year 11 and Year 13 students across the country.

With parental encouragement, preparation and support from school and their own effort and determination, every student at Ernesford Grange can achieve excellence.

The Importance of Assemblies

Assemblies are such an important part of the school week.  They offer an opportunity for the students and staff to come together in their own House community and they provide a forum for delivering important messages that we want everyone to take on board.  I will quite often use assemblies to pass messages on to staff as much as to the pupils.

Community

Last week my assembly was titled ‘From Special Measures to an ethic of Ernesford Excellence’.  This is a concept that we are working hard to develop across the academy.  I find that as staff we often get so engrossed in driving forward with the improvements we are making that we sometimes forget to highlight these positive changes to the students.  I wanted to stress how important it was to develop a cohesive school community, where everyone feels a sense of belonging and responsibility for the improvements that are being made.  I also strongly believe that if we are to continue to shift the peer culture to one of pride in being a member of the Ernesford Grange Community, that we need to reinforce that Ernesford Grange belongs to the students as much as the staff and that the success of our improvements are as much a result of the improved efforts of the children as anything else.

A Culture of Learning

One of the key points we are continually reinforcing with students is the development of the learning culture.  We are all lifelong learners and students don’t always recognise that.  We need to support our young people to build resilience and encourage them to make mistakes as it is from these small failures that we learn the strategies for success.  Children often fear failure and would rather not try at all than make a mistake; it is our job to encourage the mistakes and offer a safe environment in which to do that.  I also took the opportunity to remind students that no one has the right to stop anyone else from learning.  We are all privileged to be in a position where we are provided with a free education and no one has the right to deprive others of the opportunity to learn.

Respect, determination and kindness

Never wanting to miss an opportunity to reinforce our core values chosen last year by the students and staff collectively, I will always refer to them in every assembly.  They are the foundations upon which our school culture is built and it is my vision that all our students will live the rest of their lives with these values running through everything they do.

The final part of the assembly was a video clip of an American Navy Commander talking about a series of training exercises his junior recruits had to endure.  The essence of the clip was that completing the small tasks would lead to a feeling of success and encouragement to try to achieve harder tasks.  The video epitomises everything we are trying to do at Ernesford as we develop our young people into citizens who will go out into the world showing respect for everyone, understanding that they will fail often and that through perseverance and showing kindness to all, every single one of them is capable of changing the world for the better.  And if you have found that your child has been making their bed everyday recently, this clip might just be the reason why.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U6OoCaGsz94

Welcome back!

It never fails to amaze me how quickly after the summer holidays we get back into the swing of things at school. Those days spent having fun with family and friends quickly pushed to the back of our minds as we dive straight back into our core purpose; developing excellent learning opportunities for all of our young people.

In a change to the standard first staff training day of the new academic year we chose to engage with developing our teaching practice straight away.  For those of you who follow us on Twitter @EGCS1973 you will have seen the tweets of teachers in classrooms learning.  I am a firm believer in the principle of life-long learning and if we want to instil this in our students then as staff we should be modelling the way.

For our students the start of term was also different. With the introduction of the new House system we wanted the opportunity launch it with the gravitas it deserved and so we had a House launch day with team building activities and a whole House assembly to begin this new chapter of competition and community within the academy.

The students were super and I have no doubt the House launch helped our new Year 7s integrate far more quickly into life at Ernesford than may otherwise have been the case.

Two weeks into the new year and we are already focussing on the outcomes for our Year 11 students, who have all been provided with a timetable of additional ‘upgrade’ lessons that will take place after school (parents will also receive a copy in the post).  In this most important period of their education so far it is vital that we provide the support and guidance that they will need in the run up to the summer exams which right now might seem a long way off but will be here before we know it.

One of the many privileges of being a Headteacher that I miss during the holidays is the opportunity to celebrate our fabulous young people and the effort they put into their studies.

This Friday I was able to resume my favourite activity of the week ‘Hot Chocolate Friday’ where a selection of students from each House are invited to join me for a drink and a chat about school.  It is always a delight to listen to their views and opinions and to take these on board and look to see how we can improve school for our most important stakeholders – the pupils themselves.

So, as another academic year begins I look forward to seeing what will be achieved at Ernesford as we continue our relentless approach to improve standards, develop our vision of excellence and focus all our students and staff on a culture of learning.

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