It is a repetitive theme in the prize-giving speeches to say thank you, often to the same people year after year, and it is important that we still do so. Modelling good manners is part of the Ffynone style.
The Highest Standards
We are proud of the high standard in last year’s exam results in the new, more demanding specifications. We maintained our 100% pass rate at A-level, with half of all A-levels scoring grades A* or A. Similarly, in the new GCSE exams 49% of entries, virtually half, were awarded levels 7, 8 or 9 – the highest available. Most target grades for pupils at both A-level and GCSE were at least met, and half were exceeded in only two years’ work.
We congratulate all our students for their hard work, and particularly last year’s sixth formers who went on to study at their first-choice Universities in a wide variety of courses including Geography, Philosophy Politics & Economics, Mathematics, Medicine, Music, Drama, Electronic Engineering, Banking, and Law.
Enriching Extra-Curricular Experiences
This academic year has been busy as usual. We always look for learning experiences beyond the school gates. Swansea University has continued to host our students with practical experiments in Chemistry, Engineering research and Biology workshops at their Medical school. Our Geography and Biology students have enjoyed field trips at the coast and in Pembrokeshire. Pupils continue to have success in the UK Maths Challenge competitions and our Chemical Olympiad team won the South West Wales finals and were invited to participate in the all-UK ‘Top of the Bench’ event at Birmingham University.
The Performing Arts department has provided many opportunities for our pupils to showcase their talents. The first was back in November, at our service of Remembrance for the 100th anniversary of the 1918 armistice; we continued with a production of Shakespeare’s ‘A Mid-summer Night’s dream’, and a carol concert at Christmas.
Our musicians have attended competitions, classes and workshops in Swansea and Cardiff, and performed in community celebrations for the Chinese New Year. We’ve had Drama and Dance workshops and trips to the theatre. More recently, our own pupils in Years 7 to 10 put on a fabulous production of Les Miserables.
Fundraising for charities and for those in need has always been a practice long associated with Ffynone and this year has been no exception. Since September, pupils have supported the Macmillan nurses, Swansea’s Mr X appeal, local charities for the homeless, Comic relief and Bobath, a children’s therapy centre in Cardiff. I hope our Ffynone family will always continue to support those less fortunate than ourselves.
All our sixth formers continue with their enrichment programme incorporating workshops on student finance and budgeting, and several have completed their Extended Project Qualification this year. As usual, students had time away from the curriculum for some team-building fun, and stand-up paddling boarding is fast-becoming a popular choice for this event.
Keeping Active and Exploring the Natural Environment
All pupils can participate in adventurous activities courtesy of the PE department, including opportunities to go climbing, abseiling, surfing and gorge-walking along with other team-building challenges. And of course, the annual ski trip remains one of the highlights of the year.
Sport continues to grow with even more pupils participating in extra-curricular games in our revamped gym at lunchtime and after school. The number of sporting fixtures each year continues to rise, and I am especially pleased that we were able to hold our sports day at the University track in beautiful sunshine.
Many students participate in the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme at Bronze and Silver levels. Since its inception, the licensing for this scheme has traditionally been funded by the local government. We were very disappointed to learn in the last few weeks, that that funding by the local authority has now been withdrawn across all schools in the region.
We think the Award is such an important personal development program that we will use our own funds to enable our students to continue accessing the program and as such, we will become an independent licensed provider of the Award. The scheme itself is being modernised to attract more young people, and we hope that our students will be able to benefit from the scheme for many years to come.
Learning to Embrace Challenge
I spoke last year about the benefits of facing challenges and in building resilience – having the determination to persevere when faced with hardship or setback. I used the physical challenge of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award as a metaphor for the academic challenge of preparing for GCSEs and A-levels. They’re not easy and they require a great deal of hard work, effort and practice.
The danger is that for some young people, the thought of facing such challenges is daunting, and the fear of failing is enough to stop them from working and even from trying. They disengage from the learning process which makes failure ever more likely – a self-fulfilling prophecy.
One of the most important lessons we want our pupils to understand is that the learning process will never stop. Learning and education will continue beyond the years of compulsory school attendance. Throughout their lives, they will be expected to acquire new skills, assimilate new information and recognise how to apply that knowledge. It is a key life skill that our students need to grasp; to survive and thrive in the future world of work, they must be ready to adapt and change.
School is a time for learning how to learn; to understand which learning strategies and techniques are effective and which are not. The rationale that underpins it all is the fact that we are not born with a fixed amount of intelligence which never changes or gets used up. We can all improve and grow our minds, whatever our starting point. We will inevitably make mistakes on the way, but this is a natural part of the learning cycle. We can reflect on those mistakes, understand the errors or misconceptions, and aim to do better next time.
Our brains are continually adapting and making additional connections when we learn something new. These pathways become stronger every time that knowledge is recalled, and skills are practised.
Ffynone teachers have been focusing on retrieval practice with pupils – a learning strategy that has been proven to be one of the most effective methods for helping students make progress.
We often struggle to remember facts, arguments, algorithms, relationships. And it is precisely that struggle, in making the effort to recall information, which enables the learning to take place. Practising retrieval and practising remembering, is an easy way that parents can reinforce what we do as teachers in school.
Have a conversation with your children at home over tea about something that was learned in school. Simply say, “tell me about one of today’s lessons, what did you do, what did you learn, can you explain it to me, what didn’t you understand?”
It doesn’t need to be an inquisition and I know that having conversations with teenage children can sometimes be difficult, especially your own children. But this questioning, which requires a pupil to reflect on what has taken place, is another of the key learning strategies.
Reflecting on your own work and performance highlights the potential for change and improvement. It’s why the feedback given from a teacher to a pupil is so important. When teachers assess work, it isn’t to give a percentage or grade for their mark books, although this is often what students and their parents focus on.
Feedback is the way teachers help students understand where and why mistakes were made, what can be done to enhance work, and how to achieve it. Seeking feedback, not hearing it as criticism, gives students the opportunity to respond to assessment, and to grow from it.
Striving for excellence is the goal. This might require re-drafting an essay to improve the clarity of an argument, or to re-write a science project using the correct terminology and advanced language; perhaps to develop a piece of artwork over time, refine a music composition, or to apply concepts that have already been learned in Mathematics to new situations.
Mediocrity, doing just enough to get by, isn’t acceptable. We want our students to do the best they can – always, never to settle for less.
So, we’re back to the ideas of perseverance and resilience. It takes effort and relentless practice in all subjects to learn and practice the skills necessary for good learning to take place. The outcomes will be an academic success and the sense of achievement, self-worth and self-confidence that will follow.
At Ffynone, we want all our students to aim high, seek out challenges, devour feedback, and to strive to attain mastery in all that they do.