Royal Grammar School

Newcastle

Practice makes perfect

Practice makes perfect

I’m becoming aware that I keep giving my blogs titles drawn from old proverbs. Is it a sign of increasing age? I prefer to think it’s gradually-accrued wisdom.

This week’s title is at least an apt play on words. One of the things we practise regularly is evacuation in case of fire. After the first, planned drill of the new school year, every term we spring a surprise one on the school, to test our procedures. Inevitably, there is the occasional false alarm in between, caused by builders’ dust, steam, burning toast or an accidentally-triggered alarm button, which keeps us in practice.

I confess that yesterday I experienced the first genuine fire in 25 years as a head. A dust-extractor overheated in the Design & Technology suite, and burst into flames. The school was immediately evacuated: the fire brigade attended and the fire was swiftly extinguished with minimal damage.

For us, of course, the primary consideration is the safety of our students, and that means getting them out of the buildings. Our boys and girls quickly realised it was a real one (there was some smoke visible), but nonetheless behaved impeccably, followed our procedures and there was never any danger to anyone.

But that’s why we practise, of course.

The other sort of practice I talk about a lot nowadays is classroom practice, in other words the way we actually teach and work with students in the classroom. We are constantly talking about it at the RGS, as I wrote last week. So it was a particular pleasure today to host a conference for the National Education Trust The North East Leadership Conference: how high-impact leadership is transforming schools.

The purpose of the day was to hear from and work with a range of practising school leaders, presenting what successful teachers and leaders are doing to improve outcomes for children and young people. Actually, a non-teacher set the tone for the day, Northumberland’s own Matt Ridley, Times columnist and a former RGS parent. Between them the speakers covered the need for trusting the teaching profession: a self-improving school system; an inspector’s (HMI) view of high-impact leadership; the new Headteachers’ Standards 2015; leading a great primary curriculum; and why excellent governance matters. We also welcomed students from Harton Technology College to speak on student leadership, and NET’s founder director, Roy Blatchford, drew on his excellent 2014 book, The Restless School, in particular the chapter I quote so often, Excellence as Standard.

My goodness, we had some talented school leaders visiting today, just as we did last week.

And that’s the point (as I so often say). It’s all about sharing the best practice: and by sharing it, learning from it and adapting it to our own setting and passing it on in turn to others, that is how we ensure that, indeed, practice makes – well, not perfect, but certainly a constant cycle of improvement.

Bernard Trafford

Headmaster