Thursday, 20 October 2016

Our First Half Term
October 2016

The school has ended the first half-term on rather a high.  The house week provides a wonderful opportunity for a wide range of students to take part in proper, competitive sport and I am delighted by the standard of the hockey and rugby played this week and by the enthusiasm of the students involved.  A huge thank-you is earned by the PE department, especially by Miss Hadley.

The PE department also took our top rugby players to important national festivals in Ipswich and Norwich.  They did not win all their matches – that is a hard ask – but they did beat Hampton School.  And speaking as a man whose brother-in-law attended Hampton School, this makes everything pretty worthwhile from where I’m standing.  Well done!

And the evenings of our final week have been filled by a marvellous performance of The Pirates of Penzance which has been not only a credit to the students involved – wonderful talents emerging here, there and everywhere – but also to the staff, led this time by Mrs Perfect and Mr Waring.  A huge thank you to all.

This last fortnight has been the modern languages ‘faculty fortnight’ with talks to year 9 students, lunchtime films and more.  Studying modern languages is essential for the future prosperity of the country and I would advise all key stage 3 students who are even the slightest bit interested in learning languages to give GCSE French or Spanish very serious consideration.

We also had a very successful even promoting STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering and maths – to girls.  Caroline John STEM Manager, Gloucestershire - from Graphic Science, part of the training group who support public engagement in the research community - came to speak with girls in years 10 and 11 to inform them about the many aspirational career opportunities in STEM areas (science, technology, engineering and maths).

Our guests including Renishaw, Tata (IT), University of Bristol Research and CLG Engineering told us about their own career pathways and gave the students the opportunity to consider their own aptitudes and preferences for the workplace.
We are really grateful to Caroline John, STEM Manager, Graphic Science; Lucy Ackland, Design and Development Engineer, Renishaw; Alicia Gonzalez Buelga, Research Engineer, University of Bristol; Susie Jutsum, Geotechnical Engineer, Tony Gee; and Maggie Davis, IT Support Specialist, Tata Consultancy.

Students will follow up this event with a visit to the Skills Show at the NEC Birmingham in November.  Thanks to our careers adviser Mrs Sarah Beeton and to Head of Progress Mrs Haywood for organising this event.

The students returned to school dressed very smartly.  I have had numerous comments about this from staff, parents and members of the public and I am very grateful for all the work done by parents and carers to achieve this outcome.  Thank you.

Our dedicatory Masses for the start of the new school year went extremely well.  |Our chaplain, Mandy Baker, and Fr Kevin prepared and led the liturgy expertly, the music was splendid, and behaviour and focus were of the highest standard.

Our A-level results in the summer were good, and were very similar to last year’s.  Changes to GCSEs and to the way the school’s success is measured make  us look less good overall, though in each department pass rates and overall success rates remained high.   One of the issues which affected us was in science where, although most students take ‘double science’, quite a number of our students take a single science to ensure they move on from year 11 with a C grade or better in science – an important qualification – but this process has cost us in the final analysis.  We have remedied this for future years.

Mrs Layhe and I have planned a visit to St Paul’s RC School in Sunbury-on-Thames, Middlesex, on the 19th October.  This is a Catholic comprehensive which in theory should be similar to ours (admittedly in a different part of the country and without grammar schools) but which has achieved higher results (84% A*-C in GCSE).  We need to see what they are doing!

As you are all aware, our summer holidays were dominated by buses.  There were some teething problems, in September, with some routes and with the provision of adequate buses but these have largely been resolved.  There is I think one key route which has not been sweetly replaced and that is one that would run through Stonehouse, Eastington and Haresfield.  We are trying to put on an extra bus serving Stroud via those destinations. 

Please do not be shy in applying for free travel.  Families on low incomes (as well as families who live more than three miles away from the school but where we are their nearest school) are entitled to free transport.

We also installed new gates.  The electronic gates have made the school safer.  They have, it is true, created work for the receptionists, and infuriated sixth-formers who are not allowed out during the day.  The gates were introduced to make the school safer between 9 and 4.  I believe this is important.

I was getting increasingly concerned by the numbers of sixth-formers who were registering in the morning and then piling into one another’s cars to drive off.  The register said they were here but they were not;  they were expected in lessons, but they often came back too late.  I am concerned about the safety of cars filled with sixth-formers, I am concerned that parents may not have given formal permission for under-18s to drive off in this way.  It would be good to think that we can return to this privilege and allow sixth-formers to manage their time freely, but in order to achieve the level of confidence in their behaviour which that requires, we must draw a line firmly now and insist on a different work ethic in the sixth-form.  Study periods are periods for study whenever they fall and sixth-formers need, in order to compete for jobs and university places, to prioritise study during school hours, and beyond.  Some sixth-formers have definitely returned to St Peter’s looking forward to jaunts out in friends’ cars to fast-food restaurants.  I want that to stop.  It is dangerous and I do think that parents are not all fully aware of where their children are, nor what they are doing.    Some local schools allow free egress to sixth-formers and some do not; we need to draw a line firmly before we start deciding on privileges.

I note that attendance in my own sixthform classes has been about 98% with one absence due to illness.  This is a very marked difference from last year!

Our new head of sixth, Mrs Pearce, has made an excellent start to the year with tighter procedures and a clear vision for improving standards in the sixth-form.  Recruitment to the sixth-form was good, with over 450 students overall, and retention so far is high.

We welcomed a number of new staff to the school in September:  Mrs Farrelly in the business studies and economics department;  Mrs Frampton to teach on the health course, with Mrs Pearce; Mr Versaci the new teacher in charge of business and economics.  Mr Clayfield, Mr Fox-Smith, Mrs Garner, Dr Piercy, Mr Morrison and Mrs Stephen all joined the science department.  Miss Foley joined the modern foreign languages department, Miss Graves the design technology department (as maternity cover for Mrs Lawton),  Miss Ridout art, and Miss Gilbert RE.  Mrs Knapton is our new library assistant, Mr Bateman works as a TA in the drama department, and Mrs Szoke has joined the maths department.  Mrs Lee is our new head of maths.  She has already been working closely with Mr McAteer, Ms Lally and Mrs Melton to ensure that the department can continue its excellent progress.

Since September, we have appointed Jacinta Norton to teach RE for Mrs Eakin who has asked for unpaid leave while she fully regains her health and well-being; Mr James Dart to English as maternity cover for Emma Hilliam; Mr Liam Gittins and Mr Paul Donovan as TAs, all starting immediately.  Mrs Wendy Briggs will start work as in the maths department, from January.

At the beginning of the half-term Mrs Gittins and Mrs Layhe are joining the diocesan headteachers’ conference in Rome and are scheduled for an audience with Pope Francis first thing in the morning.  I hope his blessing of our school will remain with us for the years to come.

When we return after half-term, we come back on the Tuesday.  Please avoid the temptation to come back on the Monday! 

Tuesday is All Saints’ Day and a holyday of obligation, so there will be Masses in the morning, during period 2 for some pupils, and during period 3 for others.  Parents and carers are most welcome.  These Masses will take place in the Sports Barn, which is not the warmest place in early November.  Students (and all who come) are encouraged to wear warm coats.  I know that ‘All Saints’ is a popular clothes shop these days and I have seen some of their clothes.  They may not be suitable.


Philip Rush

Monday, 12 September 2016

Second Bus Update of the Day

Stagecoach have got back to me today about problems with the 63 service from school to Stroud.

A minibus will be scheduled for the same time as the 63A to Stroud, though this minibus will only go as far as Stroud Bus Station;  the 63A will then take the rest of the students.

Those students who need to catch the 69 from Stroud to Minchinhampton are better off getting on the minibus as it will leave first and will arrive early enough for them to get their connection.

Thank you

Philip Rush

Bus update

12th September 2016

In response to parental requests, I have written to three bus companies today formally asking them to run a route from school to Stroud via Haresfield and Stonehouse.  I am informing Shire Hall of this request having been made.

I have also written to Stagecoach asking for additional buses on the 63 towards Stroud between 3.30 and 4, and for additional buses on the number 9 route to Gloucester centre;  I have asked for these additional number 9 buses to call in to the school.  I am informing Shire Hall of this request having been made.


The changes in the bus routes have led to an increased number of students having to be collected by car.  May I please remind all parents that collection by car is so much easier after 4 pm when the bus bay is free, after the buses have left, for all cars to use.

Thank you

Philip Rush

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

School Buses and Free School Meals

Dear Parents

We are all concerned about the situation with school buses.  Our current bus companies including our newcomer John Dix Travel are doing an excellent job for us but costs have risen and routes have diminished.

I am writing today to our MPs – Mr Carmichael in Stroud, Mr Graham in Gloucester and Mr Harper in the Forest – about the effect of changes in the arrangements for school buses in Gloucestershire and about the rising cost of fares.  Please feel free to add to my letter by writing your own.

I have told you all before that families on low incomes can apply for support with transport to St Peter’s.   Today I have spoken to the Travel Assistance & Free School Meals Team about such applications.

All students in years 7 – 11 who qualify for free school meals (FSM) automatically qualify for an additional level of transport assistance if they attend St Peter’s  and if you live more than two miles away but less than fifteen.

Students in the sixth-form from low income families can apply for bursaries.  (Please contact the finance office at St Peter’s for advice about this.)

It would be extremely helpful to the school if all eligible families applied for grant aid.  Not only will the families receive financial support but the bus routes will become more firmly guaranteed.  The more applications Shire Hall receive the better they will understand our plight.

You may qualify for free school meals but have not applied.  Please apply for free school meals if you are eligible.    The cashless catering system means that students on free school meals are not identified at any point;  they simply have no money withdrawn from their account when they choose their meal.  Students on FSM bring extra funding into the school which has to be spent on ensuring that they get the best possible education.  And, of course, students on FSM who need to catch a bus will get help with that (if they live between two and fifteen miles away).

You can get Free School Meals for your child if you or your partner gets either:
Universal Credit; Income Support; Income-based Jobseeker's Allowance; Income-related Employment and Support Allowance; Support under Part VI of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999; The Guarantee element of State Pension Credit; Child Tax Credit, provided they are not entitled to Working Tax Credit and have an annual income of £16,190 or less, as assessed by Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs.

Where a parent is entitled to Working Tax Credit during the four-week period immediately after their employment ceases, or after they start to work less than 16 hours per week, their children are entitled to free school lunches. Children who receive a qualifying benefit in their own right are also eligible to receive Free School Meals.

I have also learned that Shire Hall will provide transport assistance for ‘children unable to walk in safety to school because of the nature of the route’.  I have been told that it is worth applying for this even if St Peter’s is not your nearest school.  I think it is also worth applying if your children have to walk along difficult routes to get to bus stops.

Our job at St Peter’s is to make sure that the education we offer here is worth all this trouble.  I am delighted by the start we have made to the new term, by the attitudes of our students, by the enthusiasm of our new sixth-formers and by the excellence of our new staff.

Yours,

Philip Rush





Monday, 5 September 2016

A New School Year

Dear Parents and Carers,

New staff • Sixth-form changes • Exam results • Buses • Email contacts •
Uniform  • Home School Agreement • OfSTED • Show My Homework  •   ‘Open House’ Wednesdays

We shall shortly be welcoming everyone back to a new school year at St Peter’s and I am looking forward to another busy and successful year.

We are welcoming quite a number of new staff; several are replacing staff who left at the end of last year, but others are required by new courses and changes in the curriculum.

Mrs Pearce, as you will know, is our new head of sixth-form;  she has been working with Mr Barnard and the heads of colleges to ensure a smooth transition.

There have been some changes to the sixth-form.  We have amalgamated two colleges – St Luke and St Matthew – because we have found that the aims of these colleges are overlapping considerably.  The new, larger, college will be called St Lucy’s.  We will now have three complementary focuses in the sixth-form, an accelerated college, an academic college and a vocational college.  This reflects the different aims of the students in our sixth-form.

Mrs Farrelly is joining us in the business studies and economics department, and she will also teach on the new health and social care vocational course in the sixth-form.  Mrs Frampton will also teach on the health course, with Mrs Pearce, and Mr Versaci is the new teacher in charge of business and economics.

We welcome a number of new teachers to the science department:  Mr Clayfield, Mr Fox-Smith, Mrs Garner, Dr Piercy, Mr Morrison and Mrs Stephen.  We needed some full-time staff to replace leavers, and some part-time staff and maternity cover, so there’s quite a list!  We are delighted to have been able to appoint teachers of excellent calibre to these science posts.

Miss Foley will be joining the modern foreign languages department, Miss Graves the design technology department (as maternity cover for Mrs Lawton),  Miss Ridout will teach art, and Miss Gilbert will teach RE.

Mrs Knapton will be our new library assistant, Mr Bateman will work as a TA in the drama department, and Mrs Szoke is joining the maths department.

Mrs Lee is our new head of maths.  She has already been working closely with Mr McAteer, Ms Lally and Mrs Melton to ensure that the department can continue its excellent progress.

A-levels this year, 2016, are very similar to last year’s results, and I think that that is good.  In 2016, 138 students took A-levels.  The percentage pass rates remain strong:   44% gained A*- B passes;  71% A* - C, and there was an overall pass rate (A* - E) was 98%.  These are very similar percentages to last year’s.  Students succeeded across the board in gaining places at universities and colleges.  Universities this year have included Oxford, Manchester, Sheffield, and many others.  Mr Barnard and his team did an excellent job in managing all of this and in setting high standards for the students.

I regret to say that it has become increasingly difficult to compare GCSE results with previous years because of changes at the very top in the standards that are being applied;  this year the grades in several subjects I think have suffered from changes in grade boundaries.  The BBC is reporting a ‘significant decline’ in passes and top grades nationally;  we do not appear to have seen quite such a significant decline at St Peter’s.  Overall, our GCSE grades seem a little down this year although there are bright lights.  The measure of progress in English has increased to 82% which is outstanding.  A* to C pass rates in English, maths, double science, languages and RE remain very encouraging.

Particularly worthy of mention is the achievement of the most able in the maths department, which was an area we needed to improve.  As well as a very high number of A* and A grades in the GCSE, there were excellent passes in the ‘further mathematics’ paper which is a particularly demanding course.  Three students gained A* with distinction, a grade only available in a handful of exams at this level.

There is an issue with attendance in the sixth-form;  too many students are missing lessons, without good reason, and it seems clear from an initial survey of the results that this has had a negative impact on achievement.  Funding for sixth-forms is dependent on students being full-time.  We can no longer allow the privilege of sixth-formers going off site during the day.  We are improving the canteen options for sixth-formers and are to run a sixth-form only service from the pavilion, but it is really important to me that sixth-formers arrive at school in the frame of mind that they are going to study, read and learn for the day, and not drive off in friends’ cars to fast-food outlets.  I want sixth-formers to enjoy their time at St Peter’s, but I want that enjoyment to be founded, please, on study and friendship.

One big headache this summer has been managing the buses after Stagecoach’s rather sudden withdrawal of routes.  Mr Blackshaw has worked very hard to replace as much of this missing coverage as possible, and John Dix of John Dix travel has worked helpfully with us (and with The Crypt and Ribston Hall) to offer new routes.  However, all these changes are unsettling and inconvenient.  Forgive me, please, for stressing that these changes are not of our making.  The situation with school buses in Gloucestershire seems complicated and unhelpful.  However, we shall continue to work with Shire Hall and with the bus companies, including Stagecoach, to get the best service possible.  Updates and information are on the ‘buses’ pages of the ‘parents and community’ section of our website.

I apologise to parents if any of the bus information failed to get to them;  I emailed, and I provided printed letters in reception for students to collect.  However, there are flaws in such a system.  It is now very expensive to post letters to all parents.  We want to move whole-heartedly to email communication and make communication easier and cheaper.  The website is extremely helpful to us.

I should be extremely obliged to you if you can help with this communication issue.  Thank you.

If you have an email address, but have not received a link to this blog by email, would you please let us know so that we can add your details to the database.  There will a form sent home to all families this week, with your youngest child if you have more than one child at the school.  The form allows us to check our details about addresses and phone numbers.  We are also required this year – by the department for education – to collect information about nationality and place of birth. 

I am expecting an inspection from OfSTED this term;  the cycle of inspections suggests that such a visit is overdue.  I shall be working with the leadership team to prepare staff and students, but your co-operation is crucial.  Please maintain your contacts with the school and please let us know of any concerns you have about progress, behaviour and so on, so that we can address things as soon as possible.  We can’t always fix things immediately, and sometimes two people have two very different perceptions of the same thing, but we value highly your help in identifying issues.

We are updating the uniform pages on the website and you will be able to find their precise guidance about what students are allowed to wear.  It is really helpful to us if students come to school correctly dressed and saves our having to nag them right at the start of the day;  once again your co-operation is requested and recognised.  Thank you.

The full ‘home school agreement’ is also on the website (as part of the behaviour policy).  We ask all parents of students to sign a reply slip to say they have seen this document.  A copy of the document is enclosed, the signature is at the foot of the enclosed communications form.

This year we are using 'Show My Homework' software so that all students, parents and guardians can see the homework which has been set, any accompanying resources and the deadline for it.  Follow the link on the home page of the website .  You and all students will receive a letter with a unique PIN so that you can access all parts of 'Show My Homework'.

The ‘open house’ Wednesdays continue, from 4 till 6, at the bottom of the site by the car-park, in the training block.  Please feel free to contact reception and tell us that you are coming and then use this time to maintain links.

Finally,  you probably don’t need reminding that I am planning to retire at the end of this term;  Mrs Layhe, currently one of our two deputies, will be taking over the reins and Mrs Gittins will be working with her as senior vice-principal.  So this term will be important as a period of transition and hand-over.  However, St Peter’s will be in excellent hands and I am sure that Mrs Layhe’s intelligent energies and commitment will lead it to excellence.

Yours,

 Philip Rush






Wednesday, 20 July 2016

End of the year

We have come to the end of another school year;  please allow me to thank the whole school community of teachers, technicians, admin and site staff, canteen staff and all support staff and all of you, parents and families, for your support of the school.

At the St Peter’s Mass and presentation afternoon, we celebrated all sorts of achievement and it was lovely to see not only the attentiveness and prayerfulness of all students during the Mass, but also the genuine pleasure students took in applauding the success of others, maturely and genuinely.

We have been very pleased by this year’s ‘faculty fortnights’ which celebrated the breadth of the subjects taught at the school.  From talks by BBC Wildlife cameramen in the geography fortnight, to visiting lecturers and poets, to Bake-Off competitions and Sports Day, to Science Shows and mathematical puzzles, to music and drama performances of the highest standard, we have been encouraged to see that all subjects deserve and reward study and that every faculty has something distinctive to offer the school.  I am extremely grateful to staff and students for the work they have put into this venture.

This week I have also been very pleased by the excellence of the work of our key stage 3 historians whose presentation evening was such a success, by the extremely positive feedback from staff and students who went on the residential trip to the Ardeche and by the success of the school’s junior Duke of Edinburgh Award group.

I am delighted too with the number of students who were invited to go on ‘rewards trips’ such as the RE trip to Harvington Hall, trips which provide an opportunity to thank and reward students who are doing their best.

We have just said farewell to a number of staff who are moving on or retiring.  Mrs Russell-Smith, Mr Glover, Mrs McHale and Mr Richards are retiring;  Mr Martin, Miss Olney, Mr Mains, Mr and Mrs Roberts, Mrs Hopkins, Mr Barnard and Mrs Cameron are all moving on to new challenges and opportunities.  We have been able to thank them all this afternoon and wish them the best.

Buses have been an issue for me (and for you!) in the last month.  Please keep an eye on the webpage (stpetershigh.net > Parents and Community > Buses)   for updates and further information as the holidays progress.

IMPORTANT  If you wish to avail yourselves of any of the services offered by John Dix Travel, please reply by the end of July at the latest.  Mr Dix will have to make decisions about the precise services he will offer, after that date.

I have tried to provide families with end-of-year reports which give statements about students’ progress and a comment from form tutors.  What I am trying to do hear is balance the need to provide parents and carers with proper and good information about students without burdening teachers with toil.  (Even at 2 minutes per subjects report, which is probably far less than it really takes, my calculations are that we are using seven and half weeks’ work to write these reports, albeit spread over all the teachers.  I need to be sure, somehow, that this work is worthwhile.)  I have had some useful feedback emails about this year’s process and I should be grateful to read more.

There will be a letter to all families later in the summer, by way of beginning the new year.  This will be emailed to those whose emails we have and posted to those where we don’t have email addresses.  It would be good to have all your emails addresses!

Finally, I have been asked to pass on to you the services of a former pupil.  Simeon Whitter is a former pupil of St. Peter’s.

He is an Estate Planning Consultant for a national company called The Will Associates. His company specialises in protecting people through a range of services including Wills, Probate and Lasting Power of Attorneys etc. You can contact Simeon by telephone (t: 01452 203135
m: 07872 940315).


All being well, when we return in September the school will have a new electronic gate system to enhance safeguarding and the safety of the site.  It is odd that a school named after St Peter should take so long to get a set of gates which only the good can enter, but here we are.  Visitors will have to speak through an intercom to reception if they visit the school during school hours.  I am sure we shall quickly get used to the system!

I wish you all the best for the holidays.

Philip Rush


Thursday, 26 May 2016

Half-Term Blog, May 2016

Let me begin by congratulating Mrs Layhe on her appointment as headteacher from January 2017.  Mrs Layhe has worked at St Peter’s for many years now, and has proved herself both as an outstanding English teacher and as a strong leader.  She knows, understands and supports the key Catholic values of St Peter’s and will be able to take it on to reach higher standards without compromising those values. 

We have other staffing changes from this September and I shall ensure that you get a full picture of those after half-term when things are clearer.  We have been able to appoint some excellent business studies teachers, and also specialist teachers of health and social care, to work alongside Mr Freeman.  Dr Starkey is leaving to take up a new challenge in another school, and they will benefit enormously from his skills and energy;  Mrs McHale is retiring after a long and successful career with us in the art department, in the training school and on the leadership team;  Mr Barnard has accepted a promotion at a local school, and we have had to replace him as head of sixth-form. 

This week we interviewed an extremely strong short-list of candidates for the post of head of sixth-form and appointed Mrs Sian Pearce who is currently an assistant head of sixth in a Bristol school.  We are very pleased to have been able to make this appointment - although it is always sad to disappoint other excellent candidates.  Mr Barnard will leave the sixth-form in a very strong position but we hope the sixth-form can go on and build on that to ensure that standards are as high as possible.

I was very pleased by the part our year 10 students - our future sixth-formers! - played in the interview process.  Every candidate was impressed by their questions and seriousness, and Mrs Pearce commented that they “care about the school and their education”.  A big thank you to them:  it is students like these who make St Peter’s what it is and who will help to continue the improvements in the sixth-form.

One of those improvements is the introduction of the ‘vocational pathways’ this coming September.  All year 11s were given a leaflet about the enrolment procedure and about the new pathways and I hope you have seen that.  The information is on the website now.

All sixth-formers would do well to consider the extra-curricular opportunities provided by the school’s commitment to the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme.  Mr Peake and Mr McAteer have taken over the running of the scheme and are building up a new team of staff to manage and run it.  I was lucky enough to have been invited to Buckingham Palace, as headteacher, to attend the presentation at which our former student Leo May received his Gold Award.  A huge accolade for his hard work, and a lovely sunny afternoon in Buckingham Palace Gardens for him and his parents (and me!).

I was also invited, along with many other local headteachers, to the presentation ceremony at the Madrasah Al-Fateha which is held at Widden Primary School.  Excellent to see some of our students shining there, and once again showing hard work, commitment and charity in their work outside St Peter’s.  It was a privilege to be able to attend.

Everyone is looking forward to the half-term break, I think, except perhaps our older students who are deep now into their public exams:  for them the week off is a week of revision and exam practice.  We are planning internal exams for years 8 and 10 in the second half of the summer term and parents and carers of students in those years will receive a letter explaining those and giving dates.  (These letters are now sent by email, with hard copies to collect from Reception.  Please ensure that we have your correct email address;  an email to reception@sphs.co.uk will help us fix that.  The more homes we can reach by email, the better.  Thank you.)

Have a good half term!  But don’t forget we have an important final session ahead of us.  We all have to keep pressing on until mid July to make sure that the summer holidays refresh us rather than make us stale.

 Philip Rush