Like many a parent around this time, when their children leave school, I reflect with all sorts of mixed feelings on an institution that has played an integral part in my son’s life for (in his case) the past seven years. When he left two years ago, upon completing his GCSE’s, I reflected then on his school journey up to then, aware that his place in the sixth form was by no means assured. Now, except for having to return to school to take his ‘A’ Levels, his leaving really is for good. I thought it might interest some to see what I wrote to the school, by way of thanks as well as constructive feedback …
“I found the SHSB Parent bulletin, dated 15/04/16, of particular interest, noting you were inviting parent feedback. I had in mind to write to you soon after my son, M, leaves SHSB for good, in less than three months time, but since the bulletin touches on a number of key issues I might have addressed, I thought I would take the opportunity now, in the hope you find what I have to say relevant and helpful.
Going back eight years now, I recall the concern we had, along with many parents, that our child went to a good secondary school. Without wanting to be disparaging or snobbish but, in the light of the three nearest non-selective secondary schools to us having all failed their Ofsted inspection, we resolved if at all possible that our son would go to SHSB. He was successful in managing this. The three issues that we saw then as particularly important were academic excellence, good manners and good discipline. As I reflect, SHSB has more than delivered in all of those areas. I would like to thank you, the school and your team for making this possible, especially in the light of some of the funding challenges you have faced. From his first form teacher and head of year (who between them helped him to navigate a particularly difficult period in his early school career), along with many inspirational teachers in-between, until the present time with three excellent main subject heads, I have been more than satisfied with the teaching.
You mention in the bulletin considering the agreement we as parents have with the school. To be frank, I’m not sure what this is nowadays and didn’t know our son even had a diary, but we often talk about how he is doing and encourage him to make the most of the opportunities that present themselves, sometimes using your own “success is a choice” mantra as a basis for discussion. While the outcome of his “A Levels” remains to be seen, we are confident, without taking anything for granted, that he will get the results he wants and the school should take some credit in this. My own assessment is he has done fairly well in his subjects in his time at SHSB although I feel he could have done better if he had made more effort. My bigger regret is he has not made more of the opportunities the school has provided. Although he did take part in some extra-curricular activities, I would have liked it to be more. As parents we should take some responsibility, but we will always support our son – but then “success is a choice”.
As for the school recognizing achievement, I have no doubt this has happened, even in M’s case, although my main qualm is that high achieving schools like SHSB can sometimes put off “outsiders”. I suspect our own son might be seen as more in the “outsider” rather than “insider” camp and, if there is something I would encourage the school to pay even more attention to, it is to consider the needs and perspectives of those pupils who are not interested in the things that the school promotes so well, like music and sport, or even joining in various school led activities. On the question of sanctions, and as an ex-teacher myself, I have always sought to support the school in this area. Where these have been imposed over the years in our son’s case, I have generally concurred the School’s decision was the right one, although there have been cases when I felt it had not acted entirely fairly. When that was been so, I have usually said to him something on the lines the school is like a football referee who gives as he sees it and, if done wrongly, to remember that life can be unfair and it is good to learn that lesson now.
On the subject of education, I have been almost overwhelmed concerning what the school offers curriculum wise and its continual striving for high standards. If I have a qualm, it is the curriculum is far too geared toward exam success and not enough to some of the purer goals of what a good educational set up should be wanting to achieve. To an extent, the School is merely a product of a philosophically flawed system based on utilitarianism, rather than education for its own sake and as a means to gain wisdom and understanding and be creative. Ironically, with the dumbing down of GCSEs over the years, I wonder if the school should consider a type of exam more in line with its academic rigor aspirations?
As a parent, I have been a disappointed I have not given back to the school more than I have. Things like fund raising or attending school events my son is not involved are not my particular interests (although over the years I have partaken in many school events and have enjoyed doing so). I wonder if the school has missed a trick by not drawing more on what parents could offer. In my case, as a community activist, I feel there may have been missed opportunities by not engaging enough in the wider community, even though I recognize you see helping to make pupils good citizens as an important goal. Probably for these and reasons given above, I would give the school 9/10 or B+ (still very good) when it comes to assessing it, but I am hopeful you will take these and other comments on board as you seek the perfect score!
In conclusion, overall I have been pleased to have been involved with the school these past seven years, following on from my earlier involvement co-ordinating community events held at the school, and long before that as one of its pupils. Sadly, I cannot be a fly on the wall observing, which is why having these exchanges is important. I thank you and your team for what you have done for my son and wish you well in the vital task you have of educating pupils now and in the years to come. I hope there may be a third generation of my family attending the school but it is unlikely I will be around to see it if that were to be the case. In the meantime, I will continue to watch developments concerning the school with interest and would like to reiterate my offer that I am prepared to be of help to the School if and when I can”.