I need some help. This is a bit of a departure from the general subject of the blog (or is it? after all, everything is everything else!) When I finally managed to prise my eyelids open this morning (LOVE sober sleep!!) my head was fizzing with thoughts and ideas. I’m hoping that someone might be able to give me a bit of direction and clarity to help with this muddle in my brain….
As you may know, I work in a school. The other day I brought a very old lab book (hard backed, with lined and graph paper) home from work, with the name of the school on it, back when it was actually a grammar school. So it’s about 50 years old, this book, maybe more. I left it by my bed for some reason, yesterday. So I saw it this morning, and thought of all the cool things I could do with it – I’m going to fill it with some of the history of the school (it’s over 100 years old), what I remember from my days at sixth form there (’95-’97), my mum’s memories from school – she attended when it was a grammar school – and what it’s like now. It will be mostly from a personal perspective, and include various photos, bits stuck in etc, to make it a bit collage-y, a bit junk journal-ish, you know.
So I was thinking about this little project, and I found myself wondering what the original students in 1912 would have thought if they knew that for example, today’s Biology students do a practical in which they transform E.coli with jellyfish genes, which makes them fluoresce in UV light. Or that there’s now an app that you can download onto your mobile phone, which can video, say, a bouncing ball, and produce all sorts of equations and measurements for you based on it’s motion through space – using just that video footage. I don’t describe it very well, I’m afraid, I’m no physicist! Aspirin was already around by 1912, but unavailable in Britain until 1915, apparently. Our chemistry students make it, purify it and analyse it – you can even get the RSC to bring ‘spectroscopy in a suitcase’ to the school and analyse the samples against thousands of molecules in it’s ‘library’ in seconds.
The school has come so far, and since getting the job here, I’ve sort of fallen in love with it again. I loved it back in the day when I was a sixth form student. And yet we are struggling. For money, and for results, apparently. Although, OFSTED cannot understand why we have such good A level results. In 2014, 25% of grades were A* or A, 54% A*-B, with a 99% pass rate overall.
So with results that good, why is the Sixth Form under threat? Because it’s less profitable, I think, than the 11-16 side of things. I think it’s all to do with the salaries that staff who teach A-level are getting, compared with the actual number of students enrolling on these courses. (Another issue for the school as a whole, is that we are staring down the barrel of the gun known as ‘academisation’. I personally don’t think that this is the right way to go for our school. The whole operation seems to become much more focused on the ‘bottom line’, and there are more powers available to cut salaries, change working conditions etc. Ultimately, we would lose more and more experienced and talented staff. Not a good thing for the students education, surely!)
Back to the Sixth Form – apparently courses will be scrapped if there are fewer than six potential students. Which would be the kiss of death for e.g. Science and maybe Maths. Because students will want to do, let’s say, Chemistry, Physics and Maths, so if Physics goes, Chemistry wouldn’t be too far behind, because three of those students will go to the huge Sixth Form College down the road, therefore making a dent in Chemistry and Maths numbers too. And you know how these things go, once it’s gone, it’s gone.
I haven’t got the faintest idea how I can help. I plan to have a chat with the Head of Sixth Form. But I’m unsure how effective any of us can be – I mean, I’m only a humble Science Technician, for heavens sake! If the powers that be are intent on seeing the Sixth Form closed down, it’s probably beyond saving. And yet I can’t seem to let it go. And I feel as though if we allowed it to go without a fight, I wouldn’t be able to forgive myself. I am worried about sticking my neck out – I even worry that I’ve written too much here. But I really do have the best of intentions. I want to save our Sixth Form, and I feel like there may be some way I can help, specifically from my position in the Science department. This may relate to a wider issue, regarding the understanding of the rest of the school of what we do in our department. I’m not sure….
If you’re still with me, thank you so much for reading this. Has anyone ever been in a similar position before? With a sort of conviction about something, but no real crystallised thoughts or plan of action? Any advice would be greatly appreciated. All I know is that there is something I need to do here, and I don’t yet know what it is.