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Review of the year 2018

We experienced another year in which the College continued to grow in so many ways, however amongst many changes one aspect remains true, that at the heart of everything are our students. All who work at Catmose standby the strong belief that every lesson, trip and experience should be good enough for our own children and that so many of us choose the College for their child’s education is testament to the quality of our provision.

In a year of change at GCSE, with more academic courses and the new 1-9 grades Catmose students achieved the highest set of outcomes we have ever seen.  This did not happen by chance, but as a result of careful planning by our subject leaders and superb delivery by each and every one of our teachers.  The progress our students make whilst with us is likely to place us in the top 10 to 15% of all schools nationally.  This is particularly impressive when you consider that we have refused to game the progress 8 system of the ‘open’ basket and instead continue to offer a very broad curriculum that includes music, the arts, drama and philosophy and ethics amongst other academic courses. This means that every Catmose student is very well placed to progress to A levels, or to an FE course or into the world of work as an apprentice.

Iceland Photography

Our extra-curricular provision also improved last year with more trips, electives and experiences than ever before – too many to list here with over 200 now on offer. My own highlight was joining the photography teachers on a winter tour of Iceland with our GCSE students. We braved winter snow storms, driving rain and freezing temperatures to capture some majestic landscapes that will support student portfolios.

Our DofE also continues to grow with the Federation being the largest state provider in the area for this challenging but rewarding course. It is heartening to speak with students who, following an expedition might have a slight limp after walking 40km but are still determined to progress to the next level of the reward; such was the sense of reward they have from completing the challenge.  We have a small team of staff and volunteers who give up endless hours in the evening and at weekends to make this possible, but there is no doubt in my mind that our students are better leaders, team players, who have made a meaningful contribution to their community as a result of their involvement.

Madagascar was a colourful highlight of the Performing Arts calendar last year with make-up, music and choreography that gave everyone a spring in their step. The Christmas concert brought us together with the Oakham community to celebrate the festive season.  The Year 7’s performed Aladdin with great enthusiasm, with many of them already looking to audition for this year’s Sister Act production.  In November, our remembrance took on additional poignancy by the playing of the Last Post as the whole College stood in silence.

The cast of Madagascar

The student council continues to shape our approach to everything we do from reducing our use of plastic to transforming Sports day, so that every student was involved in Sports day including our most IT literate students who updated the Hellerup screens as each event was completed.  The sports team also sustained a four-year winning run by beating the other five schools in the area in the Varsity completion.

Tug o War at sports day

Everything we do at the College is aimed at developing students who are strong characters with the self-belief and resilience to thrive in the modern world. It was only fitting therefore, that a highlight of the year for many of us was a week celebrating positive mental health with a range of activities including Zumba, Bhangra dancing, mindful colouring and the talent show which brought us all together as a community.

Dancing during positive mental health week

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Open Evening Speech 2018

Open Evening 2018

Thank you to everyone who attended our Open Evening last night, it was our busiest one ever, with a lovely atmosphere throughout the evening. I hope that everyone who attended found the evening informative and were able to have any questions they might have had answered. If you have the time we’d also welcome prospective parents to contact us and arrange a tour during a normal College day; there is nothing quite like seeing Catmose when we are going about our normal business.

We will shortly post the video of my presentation but I thought many of you might also like to see the slides and outcomes information I shared last night. We are proud of our Year 11 results which are likely to place us in the top 10 or 15% of schools nationally for the progress our students make whilst with us. We offer only courses that our students will benefit from in the future and have avoided gaming our results by choosing courses that don’t allow students to progress further to A level which makes our progress even more impressive.

We are equally proud of the broad range of opportunities we offer to challenge and inspire our students from the Duke of Edinburgh award to expeditions to Sumatra, Ghana and Nepal. Our rich tradition of sporting success speaks for itself, as does our four year winning streak against all of the local schools in the Varsity competition. We also offer a rich programme of music and performance through the electives and our productions which start with Year 7 students performing a West End show in the summer term.

Catmose is unique in our ethos which is based on trusting our students, allowing them to arrive early and stay late, to access to all of our award winning facilities and to be equally valued alongside staff for the contributions they make to our community. This was in great evidence last night with so many of our students joining staff to make our Open Evening the successful one it was.

Stuart Williams

Iceland Photography tour

We experienced an incredible week in Iceland. Each excursion gave us all an opportunity to improve our photography skills within a spectacular context. Pippa Sanger, our trip leader, is to be congratulated for the planning she did before the trip and her meticulous organisation during it to ensure everything went smoothly. The highlight of the trip for me however was the time spent with our students who embraced everything that was thrown at them (quite literally in the case of the weather). We walked in snow blizzards, wind and rain. We crossed rivers, climbed hills and got wet every day but the students remained interested in every aspect of the trip. It was a privilege to share the experience with them.

We started our trip with a bracing walk amongst mud pools and steam vents with dramatic views of the vigorously bubbling Gunnuhver, Iceland’s largest mud pool. We also had the opportunity to view Reykjanesviti Iceland’s oldest lighthouse.

The following day with the weather due to make a turn for the worse we headed for the magnificent waterfall of Skógafoss. It is one of Iceland’s most impressive waterfalls – with a wide, thundering curtain of water 60m high.

Onto Vik, a tiny coastal town, we walked down to the black sand beach and viewed the remarkable sea stacks – Reynisdrangar.

The weather made a turn for the worse and so our visit to the glacier was curtailed due to a snow blizzard. Sólheimajökull ‘sun house glacier’ has been retreating since the end of the 19th century at a rate of around 100m per year. The photographs captured were magnificent despite the inclement weather.

The weather continued to worsen and so that evening we missed what would have been a spectacular display of the northern lights. We headed off early the following day, driving through the storm before visiting Seljalandsfoss, this waterfall’s plume spills 60m over a former sea cliff. From Seljalandsfoss, we walked along the cliff base to Gljúfrabúi waterfall – it’s hidden inside a gorge and we needed walking boots and rainproof gear as we needed to walk through a river to enter the canyon!

Off to rainy Reykjavik for an afternoon of shopping and getting very wet. The coach at one point drove through what we thought was a river – it was simply the road!

The National park of Thingvellir is where Iceland’s parliament was established in 930AD. The site straddles the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, its rift valley forming where the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates pull apart at an average of 3cm a year.

 

Gulfoss are  double falls, dropping around 33m then plunge into a mile-long gorge – one of Iceland’s most photographed waterfalls; we certainly took a few ourselves!

One of our favourite stops was to meet the Icelandic ponies.

The Geysir eruption was something to behold, if a little tricky to capture!

Geysir-2.gif

On our last day we took the opportunity for street photography around Reykjavik before flying back home. Alas the Aurora proved elusive although some of us managed to capture it with our cameras even if we couldn’t see it with the naked eye.

Student photographs from the trip:

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Dealing with fake news

In the not too distant past finding out about news consisted of picking up a printed news paper or watching it on the TV. These traditional media channels with well-trained journalists and strong editorial control made the news generally reliable. The publication of out right lies was relatively rare and could be tackled more easily as a result through strong libel laws. There was also as a result also far less News and so it was easier to follow, digest and if necessary challenge.

Slide1

With the advent of social media we have all become journalists and editors combined. We can write news, comment on it and share it as we wish using any social media channel we wish, many of us maintain our own sites through facebook, snap chat, instragram and the like. We will have ‘news’ appear on our stream and can decide whether to ignore it, like it or make any comment we might feel appropriate. It has become very difficult as a result to filter out what is real from what is made up or fake.

The ease in which news can be shared is also a positive allowing families and community groups to be able to share their news quickly and with little cost. The College, for example,  uses facebook extensively to distribute news with the rest of our community, we regularly post sports victories, photos from the latest trips and from time-to-time critical information which is needed to be shared quickly. In early December we had a snow fall which closed many local schools, we were however able to remain open thanks to hard work of the site team who quickly made the site safe. This was announced on our facebook page and quickly became one our most popular posts as the following picture demonstrates.

Slide3

In December we had nearly 14000 page views; 6000 of which are represented by the spike caused by the snow announcement of staying open. What surprised us was the amount of ‘fake’ news the post attracted. There were a number of horror stories posted in the comments about car crashes into the side of the building and staff slipping causing a serious accident that required their hospitalisation; none of which were true. There were also a small number of students who posted about how appalled they were that the College remained opened, yet bragged to their friends how they’d stayed at home and gone sledging. The combination of these fake news posts caused undue concern for some of our younger students and their families resulting in unnecessary work for staff who had to manage the subsequent queries and explain just how safe everyone was.

This relatively minor inconvenience of needing to manage false posts on our facebook post is small indeed compared to the concern caused by the ‘fake news’ spread through social media following a real crisis. In the aftermath of the Westminster bridge attack a photograph of a muslim woman was spread purporting to demonstrate a complete lack of concern on her part. This image was spread widely and was used by some extreme groups to help spread discord and divide against our muslim communities. The truth of the photo was the lady concerned was simply contacting home to let her family know she was ok. She had already offered help and would do so again after this phone call. The photograph was a gross misrepresentation of what had happened. https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/mar/24/woman-hijab-westminster-bridge-attack-victim-photo-misappropriated

In another very disturbing example of ‘fake news’ there were many photographs circulated on social media of children who were thought to be missing following that attack at the Arianna Grande concert in Manchester. There were far too many that were false however, one image was of a teenager who had died years previously caused particular distress to her family and friends. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/blogs-trending-40010376

On occasion, the impact of ‘fake news’ can be very personal I was unfortunately harassed using social media which ultimately led to the perpetrator being successfully prosecuted. It was an awful experience that has had long-lasting repercussions for myself and family.

My advice therefore when news appears on your social media feed is to check your facts before responding, real news will have well linked sources that corroborate what is being stated. If they don’t it is a simple matter to search on-line and check. If you choose to comment remember this is likely to be available for everyone to read, would you be happy if this was read by your family and friends? Think about the impact on the victims of such posts and that by sharing or liking such ‘fake news’ you will be adding to their distress. If you find ‘fake news’ that is harmful to others report it using the tools available on social media, if it is about a friend inform an appropriate adult so that responsible action can be taken.

 

 

Aurora Photography in Iceland

I am very much looking forward to the forthcoming trip to Iceland to practise our photography skills. To read more about the trip have a look at this post: https://spwilliams13.wordpress.com/2017/01/21/iceland-gcse-photography-tour-2017/

I have written previously about what to bring on a trip to Iceland in the winter (https://wp.me/pRO7H-As) but here I want to go a little further.

This video is a time-lapse of hundreds of individual photographs taken one after the other and then combined to create a film which condenses several hours down to just a few seconds.

 

Photography Equipment

  • Interchangeable lens camera. A compact or phone camera will not produce worthwhile results.
  • Wide angle lens, with a wide aperture (f2.0 or 2.8 ideal). This will allow you to capture more of the sky and short exposure times.
  • A sturdy tripod to keep the camera still for long exposures.
  • Weather tight camera bag. If you have any silica gel packs this will help control moisture. If you have been out in the cold ensure you put your camera back in the bag before coming back inside, leave it there over night so that it warms up gradually, this will reduce the risk of moisture damage through condensation caused by rapid warming.
  • A head torch with a RED LED. The red is better for night vision and will allow you to see more of the night sky. Once we are in a position all torches will need to be turned off in order that we don’t ruin each others photos.
  • A spare battery which you should keep in an inside pocket so that it stays warm. Cold batteries lose their charge very quickly.
  • A lens cloth to keep the lens elements clean and smudge free.
  • A small towel in case your camera gets wet.
  • It is worth downloading an app to forecast aurora activity (https://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/aurora-forecast/id539875792?mt=8) or use a website such as: http://www.aurora-service.eu/aurora-forecast/

Night Photography in winter

We are hoping to capture the northern lights during our photography tour and preparation for this is critical; if you plan to simply turn up on the evening and capture the northern lights, even on a very good night, you will be very disappointed with your results unless you have practised the techniques before.

The first thing to try is to go out somewhere that is dark during a cold winter night. You may need to persuade your parent to drive you, or if you live in a village a nearby foot path off the street or church yard are good places to start. We are all used to street lights and perpetual light wherever we are and it can be quite disconcerting to experience real dark for the first time, in the cold whilst also trying to take a good photograph. It is well worth planning ahead and choosing a cold, clear night which will be most similar to what we hope to experience in Iceland. The Met office (https://www.metoffice.gov.uk) will give you a very good idea of temperature and cloud cover before you set out to ensure the trip is worth while. You should plan to be out for at least an hour, this will allow you to test your clothing to ensure you will be warm enough in Iceland: layer up and avoid cotton (e.g. jeans) as this will get very wet, won’t dry quickly and you will freeze. The first thing to get cold will be your fingers (as you will need to use your hand constantly to take photos) and your feet so ensure you have good walking boots with thick socks and gloves or preferably mitts with a wool or silk liner (the mitts are much warmer than gloves and will allow you to slip your hands out quickly to change a setting more easily than heavy gloves will). In Iceland, if we are fortunate to get a clear night and a good display we might well be out for three or more hours, this practise is a good way to check to see if you and your clothing are ready.

The second thing is to try taking some photographs whilst out in the dark and cold without using a torch. Using a torch is an absolute no no as the light will ruin everyone else’s photographs. You therefore need to know where all the controls are by touch alone and to do this you need to practise many times.

In preparation for a night shoot, set your camera up in advance. The aurora may not be around for long and you don’t want to have to waste time setting your camera up or ruining everyone else’s photo by the need to use a flash light.

  • Screw in the tripod mount base onto the camera so that you can simply slide the camera into place when in position.
  • Set your camera’s ISO to 1600 or 3200. This will allow you to keep exposure times short. If you expose for more than around 20-30 secs the stars will move and you will have trails rather than pin-pricks of light. If we have good aurora a long exposure will mean a green smudge in the sky rather than the nicely defined dancing lights we see.
  • Put your camera in manual mode and set the exposure time to 8-10 secs. You can fine tune this once you have taken a few photos. Use your camera’s histogram and check that you haven’t under or over-exposed, your LCD is much brighter than the photo will be on a screen, so don’t rely on it alone.
  • During day light, set the lens to manual focus and focus it on a distant object, if possible tape the focus ring in position. If you have a focus guide on the lens the infinity mark will be roughly correct but temperature can affect this so best to take an image of a distant object and check  it is sharp by eye. It can be very difficult when it is dark to focus accurately on stars or the aurora, this will mean you end up with blurry photos.
  • Set white balance to day light but also shoot in RAW so that you can adjust later in processing.

Composition

A good photo of the aurora needs thinking about. What is the foreground, mid and background that gives the photograph an interesting composition? Mountains and trees make good mid ground interest. You could always partner up with someone else and use yourself for foreground interest and with a little light painting (avoiding contaminating other people’s photographs with your stray light) to illuminate yourself.

This photo has myself light painted for about 0.5 secs with a torch, a mountain range provided some mid ground interest with the aurora arching in the background. There is a little too much foreground in this shot but I couldn’t resist capturing myself in front of the aurora.

Aurora in Iceland

Are there any leading lines that draw your eye up to the aurora? Alternatively try shooting straight up and capturing a more abstract image of just the aurora and stars.

This image is three photographs stitched together to form a panorama. The road, fence and line of trees provide a leading line to the houses and mountain with the aurora stretching into the sky dramatically in the background. I’ve tried to keep to one-third foreground, two-thirds background to give the image some balance.

Aurora in Iceland

Try and avoid taking the same photograph hundreds of times. Move around try different shots, different angles and get a good range of photographs whilst you get the chance as you might not get another.

This was a challenging capture. It is 12 photos stitched together. I liked the leading curve of the edge of the lagoon to the mountain range and then growing out of that the vast arch of the aurora. It is perhaps missing some perspective – a single person – at the bottom would have given the viewer a greater sense of just how vast this scene is.

Aurora in Iceland

In this photo (a single frame) I built on the composition above and added the person at the bottom who was stood taking a photograph, this gives the image the sense of scale but in the process I lost the vastness of the aurora from the shot above. Landscape photography is often about compromise as the different elements of a mountainous photograph cannot be easily moved!

The following shot was my favourite from this trip. I loved the way in which the shore line led to the mountain, helped by the reflections of the aurora which also lead the line to the mountain with the aurora erupting out it like a volcano – this image is the one I choose to print for my living room wall.

Aurora in Iceland

A review of the academic year

We start the new academic year in a celebratory mood following another successful year. Our ethos is one that embraces the whole person, not just what they accomplish in lessons but everything else that ensures they are ready for the challenges of the adult world. The success of Catmose cannot be measured by examination results alone but more in the way we help to transform our nervous Year 7 into confident adults who have the qualifications, experiences and character to navigate an increasingly complex world.

Our electives programme continues to be at the heart of our curriculum – offering students the opportunity to learn something new whilst developing their character and cultural understanding. The programme continues to grow with courses such as learning traditional carpentry at Oakham Castle, conversational Italian and street dance appearing alongside long-established courses such as the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award and musical productions, amongst 100 or so others. We will also be introducing electives that will prepare students to make the most of their visits abroad including the Iceland tour, Ski trips and the Sumatra expedition. The electives programme in our recent surveys remains the most successful aspect of our curriculum for our students.

The range and variety of trips and visits this year has continued to grow, offering students very broad experiences outside of the classroom.  The return of exchanges to Germany, Spain and France have given Languages real impetus and have contributed to 70% of students opting to study a language at GCSE this year. We saw every student in the College take part in at least one trip or visit – a massive but important undertaking.

Our Sport teams continue to impress, alongside winning the Rutland and Melton Varsity Competition for the fourth year running, we won 26 of the competitions outright, a new personal best. We have also competed at a County level with our Year 10 Girls’ Netball and Year 10 Boys’ Rugby winning the Leicestershire competitions. We now have over 130 students on our elite sport programme having been awarded sports scholarships with additional support through a nutrition seminar, training at Leicester Tigers and coaching by Olympic Basketballer, Drew Sullivan – some of the highlights this year. Catmose is the best school in the local area for students interested in competitive sport.

The Performing Arts Team continue to offer a diverse and exciting programme of events. Over 180 Year 7 students watched a live performance of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, rehearsed the production and then performed it live to their families in the summer. Our school production this year was ‘High School Musical’ and we are already starting rehearsals for Madagascar. We also saw trips to New York where students experienced Broadway shows and took part in drama workshops.  A group of KS4 students watched ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time’ in London. Our students have also performed at the Royal Albert Hall, supported the charitable work of the High Sheriff alongside a number of performances for our community at Christmas and in the Spring. This year we introduced individual drama lessons, similar to those that we offer for musical instruments and we extended our scholars programme to drama.

The College’s examination results also continue to impress. In a period when many schools have narrowed their curriculum, offering a limited range of subjects, Catmose continues to offer students a very broad choice.  This challenges them academically but also allows them to fulfil their future ambitions. Students are able to opt for the separate Sciences of Physics, Chemistry or Biology, Music and Drama GCSE, the full range of Arts courses, GCSE Sport, Philosophy and Ethics, applied courses, which sit alongside the core academic subjects. Our examination results remain very strong with over 80% of students achieving English and Maths with very high attainment for our most able and strong progress across all subjects for every child.

With increasing numbers of students going on to study the most academic A levels they leave themselves well placed to do exceptionally well in the next stage of their education. 47 students leave with 5 A or A* (or 7, 8 and 9) grades and 20 of these students gained at least 8 A or A* grades, these were:

Raghavan; Anand
Halford; Joseph
Robertson; Jamie
Simons; Emily
Seymour; Amelia
Broughton; Emily
Lemon; Emily
Wadding; Luke
Clark; Rhiannon
Gear; Lauren
Seymour; Hannah
Tyler; Holly
Orchard; Isabel
Harris; Lydia
Moloney; Aileen
Orton; Eve
Humble; Jack
Black; Charlie
Imison; Holly
Morris-Geary; Sebastian

We have seen over the summer the building start for a new catering facility, which will further extend our in-house food offer, reduce queues and increase seating capacity. We have also converted the old nursery building into a conference room and offices that will house our central services team (finance, publishing, data and site) which will free up much-needed space in each Federation school. In January the area currently being used as a children’s centre will revert back to the College and this too will be reconfigured to provide additional space for teaching and offices.

We are not complacent however, and believe there is still much we can do to improve.  We survey parents, staff and students each year and alongside this look at lesson observations, student forums and outcomes to focus our priorities.  This year will be ensuring:

  • there is a broader range of lower cost trips and visits.
  • any absent teachers are covered by specialist in-house colleagues so that students are able to learn as well as they normally do.
  • a continued focus on high expectations and no tolerance of persistent disruptive behaviour in lessons.
  • all students, whatever their ability or background, make exceptional progress.
  • the tutorial programme covers the topics that students are most concerned about and whose quality is comparable with our best lessons.
  • introducing an electronic communication system that will allow parents to be better informed and able to engage more readily in a way that suits them.

Stuart Williams