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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

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.

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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.

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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

Principal’s report term 4 – Trips analysis

This term I have focused on the cost of trips, which follows discussion with governors last term. Specifically, are there enough trips that are affordable to families, particularly those that are not eligible for FSM but whose disposable incomes are relatively low?

In the case of students who are eligible for pupil premium funding, the College fully or partially subsidises every trip that is offered. We know that students who are engaged in broader college life are excluded less, attend more regularly and ultimately achieve better outcomes compared to similar peers. It has often been the case that pupil premium students were excluded from trips, music and sporting activity because of family financial constraints. This remains so in some cases, but the instances are fewer now as a result of careful use of the pupil premium to subsidise places and through the practice of reserving spaces on trips for this group of students whose parents do not always complete permission slips to reserve places in a timely manner.

The College offers a significant number of trips and visits that have no or very low cost (<£20). There were 58 trips of this nature in 2015/16 and 34 have been planned so far this year. 3,300 places on trips at no cost have been offered. This has included trips to the mosque and gurdwara in Peterborough for all year 8 students; cross country athletics; musical performances with Oakham school; a languages trip for year 9; a trip to Nottingham university for year 9 and a trip for year 7 to Leicester Tigers grounds. All year groups have had access to at least one no-cost trip, albeit that not all students were offered the opportunity on each occasion. This category has the most number of trips and participants in the last two years, although it should be noted that the amount of trips and available places has decreased this year compared to last.

Many trips are also of moderate costing, between £20 and £100. In the last two years 2,435 participants will have taken part in such experiences. The cost of trips covers the price of admission and transport. Staff costs are paid by the College. Every year group has had access to such trips, which are usually UK based and non-residential. This year this has included: The British Library; Hamlet; Workhouse Trip; Burghley House Arts Trip; Royal Albert Hall; Victoria & Albert Museum; V & A Museum Trip; Bosworth Battlefield; Maths in Action; Chitty Chitty Bang Bang; Birmingham Symphony Hall; Harry Potter Studio Tour and Julius Caesar. The amount of trips in this moderately expensive category has increased, as has participation, over the last 12 months. They offer students an affordable way to experience a wide range of cultural experiences that support and supplement the curriculum.

The smallest number of trips and participants are in the expensive category (>£100). There were 25 trips in this category over the last two years, attracting 856 participants. These trips tend to be residential, often abroad. This year this has included: German Exchange; Spanish Exchange; Geography trip to Sheringham; Kingswood Trip; Battlefields Tour 2017; Berlin Tour 2017; Krakow Trip; Venice Arts Trip and New York performing arts tour. Only two of these trips (New York and Sumatra) was over £1,000. All of these trips are linked to a curriculum area and provide students with opportunities that cannot be easily replicated elsewhere. They provide unique opportunities, albeit relatively expensive ones, that broaden and deepen students’ understanding of subjects they are considering as potential careers. They are also attractive to many families who want to ensure that their child has access to a broad range of opportunities that they might otherwise seek from the independent sector.

trip particpantstrips by cost

Conclusion

There are a broad range of day visits which are at no or very low cost to families. However, we need to ensure that these opportunities are not diminished by an increase in the number of more expensive residential experiences which have increased over the last two years. We will monitor the number of trips that are low cost and use the performance management cycle to ensure that staff who lead trips prioritise low cost and high participation rates. The more expensive trips do have an important place in our ethos, however, as they give students once-in-a-life time opportunities that will stay with them for a long time and could influence their future life choices.

Principal’s report to governors term 2 2016/17

FOCUS ON SPORT

We have continued to blaze a trail in sport this academic year, competing in a very wide range of competitions which has led to participating in over 100 fixtures. Notable successes so far include:

  • Both the year 10 and Year 11 girls Netball team won their respective Varsity Leagues. The year 10 team has since progressed onto the Leicestershire school’s final against Loughborough High School following victories against Ashby and John Ferneley.
  • The under 13 boys table tennis team won the varsity competition and thus qualified to represent Rutland at the level 3 final where they came 5th out 10 teams.
  • The year 8 boys and key stage 4 girls’ basketball teams are showing considerable promise in the Varsity basketball league both winning their opening 3 games.
  • The cross country teams continue to perform well with over 25 students competing at the weekend in the Leicestershire & Rutland Cross Country league. The junior boys are currently joint second, 2 points behind 1st. Best individual position so far has been Marcus Francis, finishing 7th, with most finishing in the top 25.
  • Leicestershire & Rutland Cross Country cup the Junior boys finished 4th competing against predominately older teams.
  • In English Schools Athletics Association cross country cup the junior boys qualified for the regional round of the traveling to Leeds finishing 7th out of 12 with a number of excellent performances.
  • In addition to basketball, indoor athletics and active clubs ran by the sports team this term Ian Bartlett from the English Team is helping to prepare the year 7’s for their first Varsity Rugby by running a rugby practice after college on a Monday.

In the varsity competition we are currently second, which is our expectation at this time of year. We are once again aiming to be varsity champions by the end!

My thanks go to the sports team who give so generously of their time to coach teams to such success.

LANGUAGES

We are entering a National Spelling Bee competition for Y7 French. We have all pupils competing at a class level at the moment and getting themselves onto a leader board following a series of tests/challenges. The pupils have been learning 50 words in French and have to spell the word correctly using the French alphabet including the correct accents, also said in French. The winners of the class stage will then go on to compete for the top spots in the year group in front of the whole of year 7 with careful coaching given by the year 11 French Ambassadors. The winners of that will get the chance to go to the regional then national finals. This is proving very popular amongst the boys who at the moment are by far outperforming the girls.

TRIPS AND VISITS

There have been a rich variety of extra-curricular experiences this term encompassing the theatre, cultural experiences in Peterborough and hosting students from Spain as part of our first exchange visit. In total around 400 students have had such an experience this term.

 

Oakham Castle Trip Simon Parker 1&8 November 2016 7 120 History
Bosworth Battlefield Judith Green 2 November 2016 8 130 English
Spanish Exchange Claire Dodson 2 – 9 November 2016 9 30 Spanish
Cambridge University Lee Coupe 9 November 2016 10 & 11 30 Careers
Active Rutland Awards Beth Smith 16 November 2016 Selected 5 Sport
Oakham School Choir Performance Luke Donnelly 18 November 2016 7-9 25 Music
Royal Albert Hall, London Luke Donnelly 27 November 2016 8 – 11 49 Music
Mosque and Gurdwara Judith Green 30 Nov & 7 December 8 180 Cultural
A Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Leanne Mitchell 1 December 2016 10 & 11 46 Drama
Clothes Show Live Kim Hincks 6 December 2016 10 & 11 40 Art

College Ethos: with rights come responsibilities

I am immensely proud of Catmose, the staff, students and parents; our community. We have a unique way of working and culture that makes us very different from most secondary schools that we should rightly celebrate as it makes such a contribution to the future success of our students. We see the impact of our ethos every day through the excellent conduct of our students in class, on visits and at competition. We know it by the outstanding results they achieve and in time the successes they have in their careers and family life. Catmose students are at the heart of their community, they gain from this and contribute to it, understanding that with rights also come responsibilities.

We are ambitious for every student at the College that they achieve the very best they can, that they have the very best opportunities in and outside of the classroom and receive the support they need if something goes wrong.

The foundations of Catmose success are built on three pillars, that students should attend regularly, that they should work hard and be actively involved in the life of the College.

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A Catmose student attends College regularly, an average one for more than 97% of the time, this ensure they have secure friendships, are able to to find out about the opportunities on offer and achieve better exam results because teachers know that each lesson every student will there ready to learn.

Students work hard from year 7 until the moment of the final exam in year 11, we do our best in each lesson and we prepare for the next lesson by completing prep.

Finally, it is not good enough for a Catmose student to simply attend and work hard we expect them to give something back by joining a sports team, performing in music or drama, by attending trips and visits, by applying to become an academic scholar or a librarian. Each and every student is different but they all have something they can contribute to the shared success of the College and its community.

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These high expectations apply to everyone at the College staff, students and visitors; no one pushes in queues, we all only eat in the restaurant, refectory or on the Hellerup and we treat each other with same courtesy and respect we would expect ourselves. This helps create an atmosphere that is harmonious and more often we are mistaken for a university than a school.

We have talented individuals at the College, people who are competing on an individual level in national competitions in sport but we also recognise we are at our best when working as a team. Once again it looks highly likely that we will win the varsity sports competition involving the six local schools as we are already significantly ahead of our nearest rival. Our aim now, as it is for our most talented academics, is to compete on a national level and this year for the first time we entered competitions in netball and athletics. We were very proud to see our year 10 girls selected to represent the region having triumphed in the Rutland and Leicestershire competition.

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We take every opportunity to recognise the achievements of our students through commendations, certificates, news letter articles, letters home and of course through the badges that many of our students wear.

At Catmose we trust our students this guides the way in which the College is led, our assumption is that all those who attend the College want to do their best and behave exceptionally well. This belief is the foundation stone of how we manage the College, as a result students are able to use their facilities with very few restrictions from early morning into the evening. Students are not impeded by locked doors, areas that are out of bounds or one way systems, they can use facilities such as computers, the library and music practice rooms without direct supervision. At Catmose with rights also come responsibilities; if students cannot be trusted within such an open environment then Catmose may not be the right place for them. We will do all that we can to support students whose behaviour is preventing others from learning but ultimately we expect every one at Catmose to conform to our high expectations. If there is a student whose behaviour falls below our expectations we deal with those individuals – we never punish groups of students for the failings of one or two.

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If they do not meet our expectations following an extensive programme of support we will seriously consider permanent exclusion. This approach is supported by the vast majority of the student body who appreciate the calm and purposeful environment they are able to learn in as a result.

An ethos of trust permeates Catmose as a result underpinned by strong attendance, hard work and engagement which leads to the success of every student at the College.

The photograph above perhaps more visually articulates our ethos, over a thousand people who represent Catmose community standing calmly together on a cold and sunny spring morning – and you were able to hear a pin drop.