Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Meeting with a remarkable School Council + why Ponteland Middle is a great school now and in the future

With the amazing school council pupils, and their headteacher, at Ponteland Middle School. Full report of my recent visit and Q+A below.

On any interpretation Ponteland Middle is a special school. But don't take my word, or the word of Ofsted or the parents or teachers. Talk to the pupils. I sat down with the school council for almost an hour last month and was genuinely dazzled by them. 

This is not to denigrate any other schools, or to praise Pont Middle unnecessarily. So let me put this piece into context. I visit a lot of schools. I have over 40 in my area. I control none of them (this is the duty of the Northumberland County Council, albeit a school that opts out of the county council by becoming an academy, like Hexham Or Prudhoe Adderlane, has just done, takes control of its own destiny).
I have been to every one of my schools from Kielder,  Greenhead and Whitfield in the west to Stannington in the east, Otterburn in the north and Whittonstall and Whitley Chapel in the south. 
I have visited some of them many times. I normally go to a school around once a fortnight, albeit parliamentary hours are very difficult at the moment. I constantly receive feedback, advice, input, suggestions and sometimes criticism from pupils, parents, teachers, governors and headteachers. Long may this continue. I am seeing several other schools / teachers / governors this week. 
But it is in the discussions with school councils that I tend to get the best assessment of how the school is doing. They often tell you more than Ofsted, the teachers or the pupils in a supervised class. I try to do these discussions on my own, unscripted. So it was that recently I sat down with the Pont Middle school school council. 
I normally ask one key questions: in a word or a phrase why do the pupils like / or what do they think of the school? 
The answers or key word I noted down from this group (with each child only allowed to come up with a phrase not previously mentioned) were: 
"It works. Inspiring! I enjoy it. It's big! There are opportunities to shine. It is open to everyone. Outstanding! Successful. Lessons are fun. Designed well. I can talk to the teachers about everything. Eco team is amazing. Atmosphere is great."
But perhaps the most interesting answer was -"the teachers really stretch you"
On the tricky issue of key stage 3 testing the pupils all agreed they liked the testing and wanted more. 
Their adoration of learning was palpable and very heartwarming. 
Massive credit to the team of teachers and governors led by Carloine Pryor. 

As to the future there is no doubt that all the pupils I spoke to want to stay at Pont Middle. I am certain that the school will be continuing in the near and long term future. I support all the schools in my area, and all those in the Ponteland catchment area,  but I will continue to fight to ensure that a school like Pont Middle -  that is outstanding in every way - continues in our area.