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Talking Heads

Published on 21/10/16

Headteacher Dr Helen Holman features in this week's Bristol Post explaining what makes a good school - not just decent Ofsted inspections or high GCSE grades, but understanding the local community and responding well to all of its students' needs.  

By Dr Helen Holman, Headteacher

No school is an island.

Sometimes the debate by the political classes and indeed some in education would have the public believe that we exist simply to gain a decent Ofsted inspection and to produce children with GCSEs.

Of course these are both important but really there is so much more to a school than this.

In Bristol, schools like ours are, in fact, hubs at the centre of community life.

For the families we serve we are certainly not an island.

There may be a large gate at the front but in truth we are open for all and not just during school hours.

In places like Horfield and our surrounding communities our role goes beyond just being a school.

Just ask the women whose first language is not English who attend our conversation clubs.  They will now tell you with their improved language skills that this club is giving them the confidence to engage in the education of their children and really integrate themselves in our diverse community.

We have offered family cooking classes and every week a group of women have taken the chance to ‘return to netball’.

Our students meet elderly people and share their personal histories with both groups gaining insight into their very different life experiences. Of course we also have great links with local sports clubs.

We are not unique.

The point I want to make is that we are immensely proud to play such a role in our community and, at a time when there appears to be some desire to create division in education, I believe we are in fact a force for cohesion.

In achieving this, we need to understand our community; the families in our neighbourhood and our school reflect each other. This sometimes means that our work is about giving opportunity in circumstances which might be described as challenging.

So just as our staff know EXACTLY what is needed to stretch and challenge our high achieving children, they are skilled too in understanding how to help a child new to the country who may speak little English to flourish as quickly as possible.

That is why I find it is sometimes irksome to read in some sectors of the media that ‘good schools are products of postcodes’ and other associated nonsense.

There are good schools everywhere but geographical location is not why they might be good.

My definition of a good school is one which can respond to the needs of all of its students.

This is where an understanding of our community comes into play. Do we always get it right? No. But we give ourselves the best chance by being part of the community, understanding different needs and responding.

This is why we will never be an island.