We hit the ground running this week with faculty, Housemasters’, Academic Council meetings and assemblies to share some of the things that we have spent time thinking about and planning for following the holidays. In the classrooms, corridors and houses this past week, the talk was very much about the disappointing examination results.
We know and understand the nervousness in the community surrounding the IGCSE results and the IB results that followed. While some boys did very well, it is the case that our student’s potential was not reached. Causing learning, improving our students’ academic attainment and removing the barriers and excuses that get in the way of their success is our focus and the term has started with a great deal of time dedicated to what we are going to do differently as teachers, departments and as a school.
One feeling in school is that over the years we have kept adding and never taken away; thus taking up too much time for activities that need to be moderated. We also recognise that we have to better curate the experience of The Doon School Curriculum for the boys and we need to set more boundaries around the choices they make. All-round education needn’t mean that you have to do everything all of the time; it means that you have the opportunity to do and try everything and that helps you to discover a talent, passion or field that you want to explore further. Our approach is:
D & C Form Discover. Try to experience everything.
B & A Form Choose. Decide what you would like to do.
S & SC Form Specialise. Focus on the things you love.
We will also be providing the boundary conditions for the students from B Form on, built around the seasonal sport, one activity, one service, one publication and one committee or society which will be curated with support from their tutor and recorded in their portfolio which maps their journey through The Doon School Curriculum.
Some of the concrete changes that we have made and are making to this end are:
- During toye time in the houses, there will now be an additional master on duty in the evenings to help maintain the academic focus of toye time and to provide a greater adult presence in the lives of the boys. Toye will only be interrupted for curriculum matters like subject choice sessions or the workshops with the counsellors that come up from time to time; there will be no play practices or extra prep for tournaments.
- We will begin taking formal student feedback that includes both an objective element on things like punctuality, planning, organisation and course completion, and a more subjective element on what they perceive their teachers strengths to be, and what they should do more of and less of. This will be done in September before the trials and again in March into the future and become part of every teacher’s appraisal.
- In order to support the learning, provide opportunity for doing assignments and resources shared by teachers online and to do research work for Global Perspectives amongst other subjects, the school is issuing Chromebooks to the A Form. The Chromebook policy will be circulated to parents and students of A Form shortly. These are school controlled laptops that use cloud based resources and give the students access to the full Google Apps for Education suite that we are using as a faculty. They also turn on and off, as well as anything else that we want them to do, when we want them to by being centrally administered.
- All teachers working in parallel, for example the five English teachers who are teaching A Form, are running a Google classroom for each of their classes on which the other four teachers and their Head of Department are also included. This is helping them share their resources, make sure that they are moving together through the course and their HoD is able to check for pace and completion. We also want every boy to know that they have more than one teacher they can turn to.
- We will be calling A and SC Form back a week before the rest of the school in January, which is something that other schools are also doing. This will help us and them focus on their needs alone for a week.
- We will be insisting on entry requirements for our IB courses in the future as well as requiring the recommendation from Housemasters for a boy’s admission onto the programme. A disposition for consistent work as well as aptitude is required for success in the IB, but until this year we had been letting everyone who wished onto the programme. This will mean some difficult conversations and disappointment at the end of A Form, but we think that is better than some of the conversations we have been having recently at the end of SC Form. For HL courses we will be requiring an A grade in that subject at IGCSE. For subjects that are new to the students, like psychology, we will be requiring evidence from subjects of a similar nature.
- Moving to a two year cycle for events, tournaments and competitions. For example, some of the major events that impact the school, like DSMUN and Chuckerbutty Debates, or Choir and Dance will happen on odd and even years. We have asked our Director of Sports and Activities as well as the HoDs and masters-in-charge of those things that have become weekends rather than afternoon events over the years, to re-imagine them and plan the new cycle. As a result there are some sports, which have become interhouse only recently that the Director of Sports has already recommended moving back to become recreational and interschool only. We are not cutting into activity, service, SUPW, society or games time, but the time and energy the students give outside of that, particularly to evening and early morning practise, needs to be reduced to a minimum so that the time they have is protected for them to reflect, read and refine their study and understanding.
- Post Founders, SC and A Form will not take part in interhouse or other competitions. They will do activities and play games allotted for recreation and fitness. As adults we carve out the time we need before major events like professional examinations and events that require a great deal of preparation; we have not protected our students’ time enough for their exam readiness. The departments will run hubs for revision, practice papers and exam technique.
- We will also be moving to a model where all positions of responsibility, captains of, boys-in-charge and prefects, run from Founders to Founders. There are some areas where this is already the case and it is an open secret that post Founders the level of responsibility and action changes in any case. Like the move to the two year cycle, we will begin this term and be fully implemented by Founders 2020.
- The SAT instructors have planned to use the next 12 weeks of Wednesdays and Saturdays to run extended preparation sessions for those boys registered for the SATs. That’s 48 hours of instruction and practise when the staff have their development and departmental planning time. This will give them a great deal of preparation, allow the S Form students to participate in the Midterm and then use the two days they have when they get back for a final practice exam before they do the real thing. The SC Form students who wish to go home to can depart one evening prior to Midterm as usual and return on the day Midterm ends. We are trying to prepare them for a marathon rather than a sprint and the SAT instructors believe that this is the best way to prepare.
- We are also looking at the timings and the organisation of the PTMs throughout the year. There are good reasons for having them as we do now, but we also recognise that they are not meeting everyone's needs.
I know that some of you will feel like these actions have come too late, but we are focused on the improvement of opportunity and believe that each one will have an effect. As these and other changes take place, I ask for your patience and your support in helping to build the confidence of your son and each other. In this weekend’s assembly I shared much of the content I am sharing with you now so that the boys all know about the things that we are doing to support their success.
Some elements of the calendar will evolve over the course of the term ahead as we work with the teachers on the ground. The drafting of the calendar took place before the results came out, so some of the course-correcting steps we are taking will change it. For example, with Choir and Dance moving to a two year cycle, the interhouse music and dance on the 7th & 8th Sept, will become some solo performances in the music school and then a recital.
We have just found an interim French teacher to fill the time until the person we hired for the post arrives at the end of July. This week and next we are interviewing Chemists and taking the boys feedback to add to our own as always. I have advertised internally for the Jaipur Housemaster’s job that comes with VKL’s move to become the Principal of Assam Valley School and also advertised the IB Coordinator's position that has come to the end of a five year tenure for PKJ who stays as a mathematics teacher. The turnover of our teaching staff remains very low, which is a good thing for the school. That staff sometimes leave to become heads of other schools is also a good thing for the school and our wider community.
As for the week ahead, we are jointly hosting an IPSC YIELD Leadership Seminar with Welham Boys’ School this weekend. This came out of a discussion that Gurmeet Bindra, Principal of WBS, and I had at the IPSC Principals’ Conclave in December 2018. So many of the IPSC events reflect a staged competitiveness and don’t allow schools to work together to try and solve the problems that they are collectively facing. This seminar will see 17 schools coming together with both pastoral staff and student leaders to be presented with challenges and the opportunity to reflect and build their collective leadership capacity before working on an issue they face at their school.