The Wellington Way

So yesterday was my last Friday at Wellington Academy and I have said goodbye to all my classes but one; 10X1 will be the last ever lesson I teach at the Academy.

Some may think that leaving after only a year and 3 months would be easier and I guess in some other schools it might be. But this past year the staff and students have gone to war together: we bonded in the trenches. We had a hard time of it at the start of the year with results dropping and the principal being dropped quite rapidly afterwards. We were given an acting principal from Wellington College’s SLT and a whole new set of instructions for the coming year. Oh yeah… and continual attention from the media, bloggers, parents, random people who didn’t seem to have any real connection with the Academy…

On the face of it it seems like it was all terrible and that’s certainly the way it was portrayed by those who wrote about us and judged us yet had no real knowledge of what was really going on inside our walls.

The reality was something very different (and perhaps less newsworthy).

We were given an acting principal who genuinely cared about our students and our school. An acting principal who wanted to support uncertain and tired staff. And, rightly, he was made permanent. Mike didn’t have an easy job to walk in to, but he walked in to it very well. He faced criticisms and cynicisms that were unjust, but he kept his head high and a smile on his face. He wasn’t afraid to say what was wrong and to say it needed to change.

And change it did. Within weeks we saw the behaviour of students improve. I could actually get all my classes lined up and in my room within 5 minutes! This was the impossible dream when I arrived in April 2013. Walking the corridors of the academy I could have mature conversations with the students and get respect back from them. Students saw academic achievement as something that was within their grasp and as something they wanted. And that was never more apparent in Year 11.

Year 11 were a special year group and I honestly don’t think I’ll ever work with another year group as special as them. As the year started it quickly became apparent that coursework marks weren’t quite what they seemed and folders that should have coursework in them didn’t. And so it began… The mammoth session of telling students that they had to do new coursework tasks as they were failing. It was near enough a whole year group doing a GCSE course in one year. To be honest, I was a little relieved that I didn’t have a Y11 class!

And then 11B3 happened.

It shouldn’t have worked. I picked them up at the start of November and they had target grades of E – C. I was the 4th, 5th or 6th English teacher for some of them throughout their GCSE course. But something clicked. All the stars aligned and that miracle happened: the class of disruptive boys & disengaged students completely flipped. They wanted to work. They wanted to write new coursework tasks. Some of them even did homework, much to the surprise of their parents! They worked harder than I’ve ever seen 15/16 yr olds work. More than any year group I’ve had the pleasure to work with, these students deserve good grades. Yes, I know that some of them were right nightmares lower down the school and some even kept that up in Y11. But in English something was different. They learnt from the shocks and low grades of the year above and desperately didn’t want that to be them. In the English department, it was impossible not to fall in love with that year group, especially for our Head of Faculty (@fod3) who knew every student in that year group and didn’t give up on them once – as you can see in her blog post.

And then I had my key stage: the brilliant sixth formers.

I loved teaching them. They were fantastic! They pushed me to be such a better teacher: they didn’t stop asking questions and wanting to know more. Except for the first few months of teaching the Lovely Literature Ladies who dug their heels in and refused to speak! They certainly pushed me to rethink my teaching style & lesson plans. But I won in the end! They found their voices and what voices they had! Their questions and inquisitive nature were a delight to be in the same room with. They saw things in the texts that were hidden from my eyes.

Not forgetting the Language Lot. I’ve never seen 16 year olds so enthusiastic about language! It was a delight to just stop and discuss language with them. So much so, that I sometimes forgot to actually teach them! It sounds a little cliché but it really does feel like they inspired me through so many of their lessons.

And then there were my Y13s. My little class of 5 for language never stopped striving for a better mark or understanding of the topic. They showed me that it was that which was truly “The Wellington Way”. They were such an amazing group of people & had such brilliant ideas; I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed reading coursework as much as I have when I was reading their pieces.

Can’t forget A2 literature. There are no words to describe the characters in that class, but they were truly amazing people who I am sure will go on to do truly amazing things. Although deadlines didn’t quite mean the same to them as they did to me they never stopped delving deeper into literature.

I guess, the point I’ve been trying to make is that I don’t feel like I’m jumping from a sinking ship or running away as it’s too hard to keep fighting for Wellington Academy. It’s that the papers have it so very, very wrong. The people who stand on the outside and criticise us have it wrong. This is a building full of highly dedicated staff and students who are such brilliant people who work as hard as they can.

And who can ask for more than that from 1000 odd teenagers?