One of the questions I like to provoke boys (and staff) gently with at the start of the new school year is - are you pleased to be back? I particularly enjoy watching some boys – especially when surrounded by their peers - wrestle with an honest answer and what they think they should say to the Headmaster. Perhaps a useful little challenge for future situations where they may need to think on their feet to say or do the right thing?
I was a little horrified to calculate this as my 23rd start to a new school year as a teacher - not forgetting the 16 or so I experienced at school and university. I have always enjoyed the cycle of the academic year and the opportunity it affords for renewal for boys and staff. Fresh starts can be particularly useful for some pupils. Teenage boys spring to mind.
I have been keen to share with staff and boys that I am particularly energised and optimistic at the start of this new school year. This is genuine - more than just the Headmaster’s motivational rhetoric. There are some particular reasons for it.
A year ago, Newcastle School for Boys celebrated the tenth anniversary of its formation. At the same time, we announced our plans and ambitions for the next ten years of our school’s continued development and growth.
One year on, we have already achieved a great deal towards the realisation of that vision.
We are aiming to grow our sixth form to 100 students. When the sixth first opened in 2009, we had 14. At the start of this new school year, we have close to 50 young men in our brand new sixth form centre at 1 Moor Road South - directly opposite the Senior School at The Grove.
The new centre offers a considerably enhanced learning environment for the School’s oldest boys. There has been a sense of pride and pleasure amongst them as they have taken up residence in new teaching spaces, private study areas and the common room that they helped to design.
The building not only offers the School the capacity to grow its sixth form but also makes it more attractive to current and prospective pupils. We’re looking forward to showing it off at an official opening to be announced soon, at our Senior School open day on Saturday 7th October and at our Sixth Form open evening on Thursday 16th November.
The addition of the sixth form centre has also allowed us to reconfigure Senior School facilities at The Grove. I am delighted with our new library expertly designed and implemented by Ms Jo Elcoat who brings us a wealth of experience in professional librarianship. We now have a facility that will enhance boys’ learning, independence and reading for pleasure.
Another of my reasons to be cheerful has been this summer’s public exam results particularly at A level. In launching our ten-year vision, we have set ourselves ambitious targets for academic performance. As I spoke about at our annual prize day in July, academic performance measures are most telling when they reveal pupils’ progress – the amount of ‘value’ the school has added. This summer’s A level results are another clear demonstration of the significant amount of progress pupils make in our sixth form and a statistical confirmation that this is brought about by genuinely high quality teaching and learning.
I am also excited by the arrival of new teaching staff including our new Head of Junior School, Miss Tiffany White. She joins us from Red House School in Stockton-on-Tees – a school not dissimilar to our own – where she was Head of the Junior phase. After just over a week in post, it is clear she is already having a significant impact at NSB.
Miss White is supported by the introduction of a new Junior School staffing and management structure that will unify North and West Avenue - infants and juniors – and is designed to provide increased coherence and progression for boys in the first half of their 3 to 18 journey at Newcastle School for Boys.
I enjoyed the summer holidays and the space they provided to think and to plan. I enjoyed spending time with my family and going places. But I’m just as pleased to be back at a school that is also going places.