8th December 2016

Christmas Letter from the Principal

Dear Parent / Carer

As the 2016/17 winter term moves to its end, I write to congratulate your child for their efforts as the vast majority of our students have worked very well this term. In particular, new Year 7 and Year 12 students have handled their respective jumps and taken the transition into their new school year in their stride and Year 9 and 10 students have for the most part started their GCSE courses well. I also introduced a number of new staff members to you in my September letter and I’d like to take this opportunity to thank them for their efforts and say well done for their work as just like children, joining a new school can be daunting and is not always easy for staff also!

There have been many success stories since we returned from the summer holidays and I am proud of both students and staff alike for the work that has gone into this term. Just a few examples are below, please visit our website for many more positive school news stories:

  • we have had students enjoying an outdoor pursuits week in Ullswater
  • there have been numerous House activities and school sports fixtures
  • this year’s school show ‘Spamalot’ has completed auditions and casting, and rehearsals are well underway for February’s much anticipated performances – please ensure you get in early for your ticket!
  • over £2000 has been raised for Jeans for Genes and Children in Need charities through non-uniform days and other activities
  • the AHS Dance Academy has performed at the Newcastle Eagles basketball and one of our students has become a kickboxing world champion!
  • a wonderful young lady in Year 11 has raised over £1500 on behalf of her football coach for Cancer Research UK
  • one of our Post 16 students has been invited to interview to study next year at Cambridge University

Standards and Attitude to Learning

In my first letter of the year I highlighted attendance, punctuality, mobile phones and uniform to you as some of our key focus areas and I’m pleased to be able to say that all of these areas have shown improvements so far this term. However, we do still have a way to go and I’d like to highlight the following:

Attendance letters for Term 1 will be coming home just after we return to school in January. These will summarise your child’s attendance and show you where they are for Term 1. Please respond appropriately and support this key issue if your child’s attendance needs to be improved. Please contact Mrs Phimister with any issues or if you require support.

School starts at 8.40am each day and we of course encourage students to be punctual. Students may enter via the back gate until school starts, at which point it is locked for security reasons and after this time all students should use the main front door. Students who like to arrive early have the option to go the breakfast club in the quiet zone where hot drinks, juice and toast are served. Students who are late to school receive a late flag, with two late flags in a week generating an after school detention. Please respond appropriately and support this key issue if your child’s punctuality needs to be improved.
Uniform checks are ongoing and letters are given to students who need to amend their uniform – lack of clip-on school tie and black trainers instead of shoes remain the most common issues. However, blazers and ‘random’ jumpers are a more recent issue, no doubt linked to the colder weather. Please allow me to remind you that the school blazer is compulsory and must be worn in and around school, but can of course be taken off in lessons where needed. The school jumper is optional, and is the only jumper we expect to see under blazers. Outdoor coats and sweaters / hoodies are fine over the top of blazers for travel to and from school. If your child does receive a uniform letter please act as quickly as possible to rectify things as students will not be allowed to study with the main student population until they are in the correct uniform.

As I’ve previously stated, we do have a large number of spare blazers and ties. I’m more than happy to give students one of these ties or blazers (or trade sizes if students have outgrown their current blazer) if it means they can attend school dressed in our uniform.

With regard to mobile phones, students’ phones are their own responsibility with regard to loss and damage and we allow sensible use at social times. Phones should not be seen or used in lessons unless a teacher gives permission e.g. to use the calculator function. In terms of use at break and lunch, no photos or video images should be taken and any inappropriate social media use will not be tolerated.

Sexting and inappropriate mobile phone usage has again been a concern at times this term – almost always outside of school but of course this invariably ends up coming into school. We repeatedly give out messages about safety to students during school time and at parents’ evenings, with a multitude of information and relevant links available on our website. We do not recommend social media platforms for our younger students and of course we are keen for all students to stay safe online and with their mobile phones if they have them. Please do take this growing issue seriously and reinforce key messages, including the legality of sharing explicit images, with your child if necessary.

Can I remind you that we ask that communication between students and home during the school day is made via the school office instead of updates using mobiles. With respect to home school communication, we always welcome parents coming into school to see us but it is obviously more straightforward for staff to be available if appointments are made in advance. It is completely understandable that when there has been a more serious issue that parents may feel it is important to come to school straight away, and we will do our best to accommodate this. However, for low level issues please do book a meeting with the relevant staff member rather than just turning up – I will be asking our Pastoral team in particular not to accept non-urgent ‘walk-ups’ in the New Year either during the day or without an appointment made.

We are also fielding a number of complaints coming into school from parents about issues in the community or social media problems between themselves and other adults. In this situation our guidance is clear, we are here to support students in the first instance and parents where needed linked to school issues. All other problems should be reported to the police if concerns are serious enough.

As I have stated above, the vast majority of students have behaved very well this term. In fact, analysis of data from our Positive Discipline system shows that it’s only around 3% of students who cause our most significant behaviour issues, with around another 5% being deemed regularly ‘problematic’. Therefore, please be aware that I have discussed this with Governors and they have backed me in taking more direct action with students who fail to comply with our school rules e.g. use of inappropriate language, verbal or physical aggression, a poor attitude and a lack of respect for self, others or the school environment. A ladder of support and personalised ‘Pastoral Plans’ will soon be launched with a number of parents and students outlining a clear plan of support and sanction, with sanctions increasing in severity at each of the stage of the plan. Students who reach the end of their Pastoral Plan without altering their behaviour (or choosing a different school option) will be recommended to Governors as requiring permanent exclusion for persistent failure to adhere to school rules.

It is also important that as our expectation of the most challenging minority increases, the same applies to the rest of the school population. Therefore, I will be asking teaching staff in the New Year to make it clear to students in every single lesson that a high work ethic and a positive Attitude to Learning is required to achieve success. Students who fall short of trying their hardest or at the moment may be just ‘below radar’ i.e. not behaving poorly or causing a fuss but not pushing themselves either, will be flagged in their lessons next term for not showing a positive enough attitude. Assemblies for students will focus on this after the holidays to ensure all students are aware of the expectations next term. Parents can see Attitude to Learning grades for each subject studied on our Progress Updates that are posted home – grades 4 and 5 are poor, we hope that all students will push their effort to grade 2 and above in all of their lessons.

School closure and re-opening

School closes on Friday 16th December at the normal time of 3.00pm. The new term begins on Tuesday 3rd January with a regular school day start time of 8.40am for all students.

Rewards Events and Christmas Non-Uniform Days

We have a busy week of planned activities linked to Christmas or as end of term rewards for students who have performed well in school since September, for example achieving high attendance or showing a good attitude to learning – your child’s Year Manager will be working with students to make sure they have all of the information they need.

Rewards trips are going out every day for each year group. There is a Christmas movie for Year 7 and 8 on Monday 12th December and Year 9 and 10 on Tuesday 13th December, and a Tutor Group Christmas Party and Christmas dinner will be on offer on Wednesday 14th December. There will be a Year 7 Disco on the afternoon of Thursday 15th December and a Year 8 Disco on Friday 16th December (Year 7 students can bring a change of clothes to wear in the afternoon on Thursday 15th if they would like to change at lunchtime).

We finish the week on Friday 16th with a non-uniform day with a Christmas Jumper theme. As usual we will be supporting a charity with our non-uniform days and this year students can choose to either make a £1 donation (to Save the Children) or bring in a jar / tin of food which will be donated to the Wansbeck Food Bank. Below is a table of activities that shows what is happening during the last week of term:


We hope the range of activities on offer in the final week of term provide some positive experiences for both students and staff as we all look forward to the festive break.

Please also accept my very best wishes for the Christmas holidays.

Gary Douglas
Interim Principal