Head's Blog: News & Views from Mr Carson
Welcome to Mr Carson's "Head's Blog", where he will share his news and views about RMS and beyond.
Blog posts are listed below.
Assessment is important, but... - Tuesday 21st March 2017
Assessment is an important part of schools, but great schools do much more than merely assess.
As one might expect, Hilary Term at RMS has been focused in part on assessment of our pupils and preparation for summer examinations. Years 11 and 13 have both sat mocks in Great Hall, and we have just brought to a close a round of assessment for entry into Year 7 in September (which I will touch on further a little later). An appropriate level of focus on assessment and examinations is an important part of every school, our bread and butter if you will, and ongoing formative assessment of pupils’ progress rightly takes place every day in almost every classroom as teachers constantly ask, “What does this student need to know/do next, and how do I help her with that?” That all said, I have long held the view that the best schools must do far more than merely assess, revise, and help students to pass examinations.
As a teacher, I once taught in a girls’ grammar school that at the time was to my mind too narrowly focused on assessment. The outcome of examinations was placed on girls’ minds from Year 7, i.e. from age 11, some of the girls were thinking far too much about attaining 10 A*s at GCSE. It was a “top of the league tables” school for its examination results, but, the odd inspirational drama teacher aside, it felt to me that there was a sterile culture inside the school. It remains the one school that I left for educational reasons as I felt that to different degrees the culture of the school was harmful for the girls: it was too narrowly focused on endpoint, on outcome, on examination results alone.
At RMS we are opposed to such a culture in most every respect; we are a broad, values-driven school and our focus is on developing individuals, on a rounded education that prepares girls for life, and on a commitment to self-improvement from everyone in our community. And yet there is an irony here, because our value added results are the envy of more than nine out of ten schools, and our 2016 A Level results of 83% A*-B are better than most all local competitors. My own view after nine weeks in post as Head is that our success in external examinations is very much linked to our healthy school culture.
First and foremost, the pastoral aspects at RMS are strong, with great knowledge of all pupils as individuals and the School responding in flexible, nuanced ways to their needs. The extra-curricular options are broad, with each girl able to find her niche and thrive: a student may not be a top set mathematician but she could be the leader of Concert Band, or our goal shooter in netball.
Additionally, the learning culture at RMS is resolutely focused on process over endpoint, on the process of being a better learner: our RMS Values focus on qualities such as “the courage to challenge oneself”; the 4 Rs at RMS stress “Resilience, Reflectiveness, Reciprocity, and Resourcefulness”; girls are praised by teachers for their effort, commitment, and for their attitude towards developing as a learner both inside and outside the classroom. By focusing on a healthy school culture and on the process of pupils developing as learners, any endpoints pretty much take care of themselves.
Last Friday in assembly I mentioned to the girls that I suspect they do not quite appreciate just how talented and special they are as a bunch of students. Not wishing to offer cheap and easy praise I offered a little evidence from just the last week or so to support my view.
Academically, one of our Year 10 students, Emma Wei, has been selected to attend the National Mathematics Summer School, a prestigious competition for the most talented young mathematicians in the country. In the Young Enterprise competition that has involved students from over thirty schools starting their own business, our two teams, Baggle and Spectrum, were both selected for the finals at KPMG – a great achievement.
On the sporting front, last weekend at the British Schools Gymnastics Milano Team Nationals not only did we have teams who had reached that stage in all three year groups (a first for RMS), but their achievement in the nationals was outstanding, with the Under 11 girls coming 10th nationally, the Under 13 Girls finishing 11th nationally, and the Under 19 Girls (Miranda Conn, Isabel Peters, Amelia Daley and Rachel Roger-Lund) finishing in 3rd place nationally.
Not to be outdone, on Wednesday evening our Year 10 hockey team added to their success as District champions by winning the County Cup Final, holding their nerve to win both the semi-final and the final on penalty shuffles.
The talent of our performing arts students has also been evident to audiences in recent weeks as first the Spectrum Dance Show and then last week the Cadogan House production of The Lion King entertained all who had the privilege to watch such very special productions. On Friday evening there was also a top-notch Rush Hour Concert featuring some of our most talented classical musicians and singers, and from Tuesday of this week there is the Disney Magic production to continue a fantastic programme of events from the Faculty of Performing Arts this half-term.
To come back to the entrance assessments that Year 6 girls have recently been sitting ahead of joining us in September, I was pleased to learn that at RMS we assess girls’ ability and potential by considering a wide range of factors. Some schools in the area assess only on performance in one test, and when I met with other local Heads recently there were some who confessed to me that they found this quite limiting. At RMS there is a computer test assessing mathematics, vocabulary and reasoning ability, but there are also pieces of creative writing, every girl is interviewed by the Head of Year 7 and myself, and each girl chooses either sport, art or the performing arts as an area of specialism in which we see them interact with their peers.
Most importantly, this process allowed me to meet and chat with every girl so that I could begin to get to know her interests, strengths, and passions. It also meant that I could select future RMS girls for any one of a number of reasons, knowing that every girl who joins us is talented, a close match to our ethos, and wishes to throw herself into the life and healthy culture of our school. In the seven years to come, I can be confident that these girls will develop the most diverse range of talents and that the school will always respond to them. Yes, we will assess our pupils, every day in the classroom, and some girls will attain a full set of the highest possible grades as RMS girls do each year. More importantly, along the way and over seven years I know that the next cohort of RMS girls will be happy and healthy, will be encouraged to follow their own varied passions and interests, and will develop as learners with a broad set of skills and qualities that will help them not only in examinations but also in the twenty-first century global world beyond the exam hall.
A First Week to Remember - Monday 16th January 2017
As I am sure everybody connected with the School would expect, it has been a very busy first week of Hilary Term.
After a well-deserved festive break for pupils and teachers alike, RMS hit the ground running on Tuesday morning as girls brought both energy and purpose to the corridors and school. There is an immense range of activities taking place every single day at RMS, and what follows here is only a handful of highlights from what has been, for me personally, a memorable and pleasurable first week beginning to get to know a wonderful learning community.
Year 11 were possibly the most focused year group this week, with mock GCSEs allowing girls to experience sitting examinations in the Great Hall and also concentrating minds on targets for the remainder of this school year.However, the most fun to be had on Tuesday was definitely taking place in Cadogan House where there was a great mystery to solve as Mr Connors' Christmas presents of chocolates had been stolen by one of eight suspicious characters!
Years 2 to 6 showed forensic powers of deduction as they questioned suspects, studied clues at the crime scene, and viewed CCTV footage before unraveling this fictional mystery. I was over in Cadogan House on Tuesday to see the girls all having a tremendous time, developing their already strong questioning skills, and stimulating their imaginations ahead of a series of writing tasks that followed during the rest of this week.
There was also much creativity evident in Ruspini House this week, including Blue Class creating beautiful flowers using a variety of materials and textures, and the children in Red Class taking their artistic talents a stage further by creating their own fabulous interpretations of Van Gogh’s ‘The Starry Night’ oil canvas. Our new Head of Ruspini House, Mrs Toni Finkel, has spent the week getting to know our youngest RMS pupils and their parents, and I too look forward to meeting parents of Ruspini pupils at the coffee afternoon in Ruspini House on the afternoon of February 10th. Like Mrs Finkel, I have been trying to get to know as much of the School as possible, visiting all sections of it, introducing myself to staff and pupils alike wherever possible, including meeting a number of wonderful Year 6 Cadogan House parents on Wednesday afternoon, and then finally delivering my first assembly to Senior School and Hind House students on Friday.
The different groups of girls that I have sat down with at lunch throughout this first week have all provided me with advice to help me out in assembly – “Be a little bit funny, tell us about yourself, and include a few pictures” being the gist of their tips – so come Friday afternoon, I not only felt extraordinarily privileged to stand before them all, but hopefully I was also well-prepared to meet their initial expectations.
The assembly was intended in part to allow the girls to gain an initial sense of who I am as a person, as it is important that pupils know their Head just as I wish to know each of them as soon as is possible. I am equally looking forward to getting to know our parent community at RMS, and Saturday morning offered another opportunity to do just that as the chilly January air did not prevent a good number from supporting their daughters at an invitational hockey and netball tournament hosted by the School. All of our girls who participated showed great skill and desire to win, but the most inspirational team of the morning was undoubtedly our Year 8 netball team, who not only won the netball tournament, but were also unbeaten in all of their matches. The girls were delighted with their success when I spoke with them afterwards, and in competing against teams mostly a year older than themselves they had definitely demonstrated just as well as one could wish our RMS Value of the Month: “the courage to challenge oneself”.
For me there were so many highlights of my first week officially being a part of the RMS community, but two memories that perhaps most delighted me in exemplifying part of why this is such a wonderful school relate to our Year 13 students. The first was watching a group of girls attending a ‘Cooking for University’ class with Mrs Clivaz teaching them all about healthy cooking, and just enjoying witnessing how at ease with and extremely supportive of each other the girls were as they cooked a series of delightfully appetising dishes.
During the lesson I heard the girls talking about the “Offers Board” in Hind House. I asked about this and was told that in order to support and celebrate their successes as university offers arrived, the Year 13 girls had taken it upon themselves to write down in their Sixth Form Centre a full list of every offer that each girl had achieved. I walked over to Hind House afterwards to witness the “Offers Board” for myself and was quite overwhelmed by what is an extensive and inspiring list of RMS girls who have received multiple offers to study at wonderful institutions across the UK.
The list included all of the most competitive courses and prestigious destinations, of course, but what matters most to me is that each of our leavers studies on the right course at the best university for her, and the variety and range of the courses that our girls have received offers from suggests that this is exactly what is taking place. One could not help but be proud of this celebratory board showing a cohort of RMS students getting ready to spread their wings and take flight as independent young women. University is, for all of our girls who wish it, the initial desired destination following their time at Ruspini, Cadogan, Senior School and Hind House, and for me it was a real highlight of this week to see that for the 2017 RMS Leavers there is clearly so much to look forward to, and a great variety of wonderfully exciting careers lay ahead of them all.