Posted on 26/08/2020

92. CARDS ON THE TABLE

It’s time to put our cards on the table.

Just over six years ago, a group of staff, boys and parents believed sufficiently in FBS to push against the odds to get it to open.  It was a risk and hard work, with lots of ups and downs. Six years on, the school is oversubscribed; we delivered a cracking set of GCSE results last Thursday, we have a cabinet full of sports trophies, have been London debating champions, can boast of grade 8 LAMDA actors, are about to move to a state of the art building, have standards and an ethos described as ‘beyond exceptional’ and have the best male voice singing outside Wales.

And yet, as we set up our Sixth Form, it almost seems like day one again. We were told that it would be difficult, ridiculously competitive in this part of West London, and would take about five years to establish a top class sixth form. ‘Don’t sell out and settle for less for short term gain’ we were told. ‘Be true to your vision and ethos’ they said. We won’t. And we will. But it is hard. Really hard. And the time has come to put our cards on the table and say, to make this work, we need you.  But also, you need us. 

  1. We need you

FBS’s holy grail is to become one of the best schools in the country, state or private.  Getting rid of private schools would be a denial of people’s freedom.  But I do want it to be seen as crazy for someone to spend £250,000 on school fees when they could go to a ‘top’ school for free. Young people from all backgrounds rubbing shoulders together, which is in the very DNA of FBS. But for FBS to achieve this top notch, we need a top class Sixth Form. As we have always said, it is all our school and it will take all of us to pull this off.  I understand the reservations: we’ve no track record. We’re one year into having a sixth form, with half of that taken out by a global pandemic and the other without a head of Sixth Form because of brain surgery. And yes, our first set of GCSE results were mixed, and we’re still on a temporary site. The grass may seem greener elsewhere. So let me reassure you on some of these things.

The permanent site is within sight. We will be home in January. And with all that has gone on over the last six months we are surprisingly glad to be coming back to the familiar, with a term to get the permanent site ‘bells and whistles’. It will be something to look forward to in the new year:  2021 will be a home coming like no other.

As for an unproven track record, our second set of GCSE results were more in line with our expectations going forward. We submitted over 1200 grades.  We went through a rigorous process to ensure that our boys’ results would be a valid proxy for exam performance and we’re confident this will be born out when it comes to their A levels in two years and the trend of GCSE results year on year.  Overall, 37% of GCSEs gained by FBS pupils were graded 7 or above, with 10% at grade 9. The individual success stories include one pupil who joined FBS with no spoken English, who secured good passes in all subjects, and a student given a second chance by FBS following permanent exclusion from another secondary, who gained level 9s and 8s across the board. Headline results include:

  • 70% of students achieving at least five grade 5s
  • Three students obtaining a clean sweep of the top level 9 grades
  • 77% of students passing both English and Maths
  • 33 boys achieving at least one grade 9 (30% of the cohort)
  1. You need us

But as well as us needing you, you need us.  I get it that sixteen year old boys want freedom. Not to wear a uniform. Have their hair how they want it. Only be in school/college when they’ve got lessons. To be in a sixth form with girls. I get it, but don’t agree it’s in their best interests.

Sixth Form is the bridge between school and being a boy, and university or the world of work and being a man. Even in normal times, there’s a huge jump from Year 11, with every period accounted for, to sixth form where more work is done outside lessons than in class. We think it’s right to help boys bridge this transition rather than leaving them to make the leap. So in FBS’s Sixth Form, some ‘free’ periods are periods where they can relax, have a cup of tea, play pool; other free periods are guided study periods. We are not out to spoil their fun or suffocate them but they need help and guidance to make the transition. Our pastoral care is integral to this: all our sixth formers are known, looked after, helped and given increased freedom and responsibility to make the transition from school to university and beyond.

This ‘bridging’ is more necessary than ever this year. Our boys have missed so much school and it will be harder than any of us think to get back into it. Covid constraints mean that some other sixth forms are doing blended learning from September. One week in lessons and one week out. It sounds appealing. Treating you like adults. But isn’t it better to be in lessons? Honestly? At FBS, rather than cutting back on face to face teaching, we are offering increased time. This means we can help and encourage our boys to become more independent and self disciplined, getting them back into the swing of studying after a very long time away from school. Boys who are on top of their work and making excellent progress will not need to attend all lessons. Boys struggling with ‘free’ periods, especially after months of ‘free’ periods will be given more structure - the incentive being, the more they do outside the lessons, the less they will have to attend. 

But more than any of this, if this pandemic has taught us anything, it is that there is, or should be, more to life than exams. Schools and colleges should be more than exam factories. Anthony Seldon in The Sunday Times on 21st August commented, ‘Is it surprising that so many young people have been distraught in the past fortnight, when we have been telling them all their lives that exams are all that matters? That their entire worth is to be judged by exam grades? Exams tell a truth about a young person. An important truth. But they do not tell the whole truth. They tell us little or nothing about the character of the young person, about who they are, or what they have to offer the world.’

This is why academia is just part of our Sixth Form. We know the critical importance of developing well rounded young men, so we have a rich co-curriculum and sports provision which all students are expected to join in. For the same reason, our Sixth Formers are also there to be role models and active student leaders at the heart of the school -  leading some clubs, as lead guardians, as head boy and deputy head boys, as volunteer teaching assistants in curriculum areas once a week, having lunch with the rest of the school a couple of times a week and driving their school houses.

It’s also why we’re working hard to get Oxbridge and Russell Group universities and businesses to recognise the FBS Enterprise Award. It’s our way of recording all these things and showcasing boys’ personal, creative, physical, emotional, moral, spiritual and entrepreneurial qualities, alongside their intellectual intelligences. Life is so much more than GCSEs and A Levels.

FBS remains determined to be among the very best. We believe passionately in our ethos. We think the pandemic underlines the importance of our approach. It is what this generation needs right now. It is why you need us. And putting our cards on the table, it is also why we need you.

 

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