Endeavouring to provide an excellent education daily for every child

Dear Headteachers,

Thank you for all your work for every Hackney child – endeavouring to provide an excellent education daily for every child. I am very proud of the work you do. Hackney is in the top fifth of local authorities in the country for children getting a good or outstanding education – which is great. While, of course, we want that to be even higher!

I have been very heartened to see and hear how well children are thriving back in school after the disruptions of the past terms. Across the borough we are seeing a slight increase in Covid cases in children: but this is not a steep change. The mitigations you have in place, including twice weekly testing, do remain important. We have had six schools (out of 80) reach the threshold of five connected cases during the first month of term: these schools have all made some additional adjustments for affected classes in the light of advice from LCRC.

We have seen some Ofsted inspectors back in Hackney during the first part of term. I know that those of you in the Ofsted “window” are well prepared for their visit. Of course the most important preparation is to provide a high quality education day in and day out. Here are some of the themes which are being discussed across the country with Ofsted – about schools providing a strong education – these are always worth reflecting on.

These schools:

  • Have genuine ambition and positivity for all
  • Provide a well organised, coherent curriculum that builds on prior learning
  • Recognise the role of language and vocabulary in accessing learning
  • Have robust systems to track and identify pupils who are falling behind
  • Are aware of the impact of unconscious bias and assumed cultural reference points
  • Actively listen to the pupils and communities they serve
  • Provide quality professional development for staff and break down any barriers to achieving this
  • Meet personal development and wellbeing needs
  • Understand that schools are part of a wider system and that collaboration, especially with parents, ensures better outcomes for all

On the theme of listening to children and families, which has been emphasised by Ofsted, you may be interested to read the Children’s Commissioner’s “Big Answer”, a summation of the survey carried out nationally early this year. It is a heartening insight into children’s hopes and aspirations and concerns. This emphasises the importance of listening to children and getting feedback in our areas of work. Hackney Education is reaching out to parents too, with an open conference on 7 October  at 6-7.50pm. We will give you feedback from any emerging findings from this via forthcoming scheduled headteacher meetings.

In Hackney Council, we are all pleased to be welcoming our new permanent chief executive, Mark Carroll, who starts today. I had a meeting with Mark on one of his induction days: I was delighted to hear his commitment to education and his understanding of education as being fundamental for our borough.

I am taking forward, for Hackney Council, the development of a short publication on the role of the local education authority in leading education, with some examples from Hackney Education. We have approached some headteachers individually about contributing to this: further contributions are most welcome. Please do contact me directly if you would like to speak to the writer or offer a contribution/short quote.

Thank you again for all you and your teams are doing. Please do contact me if you have any comments or queries about our work to support you.

With best wishes,

Annie Gammon
Director of Education

@HackneyDirofEd

Thank you for being a centre of stability for our communities

Dear headteacher and principal colleagues

Thank you very much for all you are doing in leading your school communities, supporting your teams, your pupils and each other. 

All of us at Hackney Education hugely appreciate the work you have done this year individually and collectively. As we look back over the waves of changes you have dealt with during 2020-21 academic year, we know that for the pupils you have been a crucial centre of stability. Thank you and well done.

Once we have ensured our staff and pupils are safe, our key focus is rightly on teaching and learning: making every lesson as good as it possibly can be for each pupil. I am pleased that Hackney is in the top 20% of local authorities for having a high proportion (93%) of children in good or outstanding schools. Thank you for your efforts to make this 100%, and for your ongoing focus on continual improvement of teaching. I have been struck in my visits to schools in the last month how well you have designed, planned and tailored any needed recovery work for our pupils.

Alongside teaching and learning the overall experience in school includes attitudes, personal development, safeguarding and behaviour. During this year in Hackney, working together as a local educational partnership, we have seen significant work to further develop the pastoral work in schools and settings. One outcome of this is that exclusions are significantly down this year – with no primary PEx’s (as before) and, to date, a total of three secondary PEx’s (down from over thirty in the previous two years). Schools have had a real focus on early help for pupils facing challenges which has been a key factor in achieving this; the The WaMHS work that almost all our schools have been engaged in has also been important. Thank you for your work in this area.

We have also seen and encouraged continued development of work around diversity and anti-racism. I think that all schools have been involved in this, in a range of activities including staff professional development, engagement with pupils and parents to discuss their views, and use of the diverse curriculum. Your overt commitment to this work is really valuable to our whole community.

I hope that you have found Hackney Education’s support, guidance, challenge and services effective. Myself and all the SLT are always keen to hear your views: if you would like to talk to me about any aspect of what we do please do get in touch directly or via Thao Ngo (thao.ngo@hackney.gov.uk).

I wish you a pleasant, safe and hugely well deserved break over the summer holiday.

With best wishes

Annie Gammon
Director of Education
@HackneyDirofEd

Initiatives to support schools to flourish

Statement

Mandeville School is a flourishing high-quality primary school in Hackney. The Hackney Education team regards Mandeville, and the LEAP federation to which it belongs, very highly. We are supporting LEAP initiatives to further grow Mandeville, including increasing nursery places, Forest School provision, free school meals for all families, the holiday play scheme and the groundbreaking Hackney School of Food.

Recently, a leaflet has been disseminated in the community, claiming there may be Council plans to close Mandeville School. To confirm: we have no intention of suggesting a closure of Mandeville and have never discussed any such plan. Any statement to this effect is wrong and is spreading disinformation in the community.

A press article earlier this year discussed forward planning for schools in Hackney: this comprised two concurrent issues: our short-term review of school places in light of a decrease in the number of reception-age children in the borough; and our longer-term considerations should rolls continue to fall. This article drew on the Hackney Education’s school organisation plan document, which is available online, and a public consultation we carried out on immediate admission reductions proposals.

The consultation resulted in six primary schools reducing the number of places in their reception classes from September 2022. One of these was Mandeville. These reductions help secure the future of the schools as thriving parts of our community.

There is no council plan to close any school. Looking at the longer-term, we continue to keep a range of options under consideration when scrutinising demographics, including the impact of housing developments and requirement for special needs places.

Annie Gammon
Director of Education
@HackneyDirofEd

A sense of hope as we move into a safer, more sustainably stable educational space

Dear colleagues,

I write to thank you at the end of this Spring term for all you and your teams have done for our pupils and their families.

As I look back those difficulties around January 4th, the U turns over opening or not opening seem an age away. Twelve weeks have passed. During that period we know that our community will have lost some much loved members of families, teams and friendship groups. Our thoughts are with all affected.

During this twelve week period, we have also seen continued outstanding work by all involved in education. The attention to remote learning, to work with pupils on the school site, to pastoral contact with children and families, has been immensely supportive for our community and most importantly for our Hackney children. Thank you.

We seem now to be moving into a safer, more sustainably stable educational space (although risks of variants and outbreaks hover). As we look ahead, I feel a sense of hope about the future months for our school communities. I enjoy these quotes about hope which I share with you:

“Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true:
That even as we grieved, we grew.
That even as we hurt, we hoped.
That even as we tired, we tried.” Amanda Gorman January 2021

”A positive statement propels hope toward a better future, it builds up your faith and that of others, and it promotes change.” Jan Dargatz

I do think the disruption caused by the pandemic allows us to reevaluate: much that we thought unchangeable has actually changed and much that we thought impossible has become possible. A range of opportunities present themselves for changing some ways of working. I encourage you to reflect on these opportunities and what you want to keep or develop for your school.

In thinking about my future work here, I bear in mind Hackney Council’s aims which are to create a fairer, more inclusive borough, which supports children and young people to thrive. Our own Hackney Education mission is to improve the life chances of every child, young person and learner in Hackney…making Hackney the most forward looking education system in the UK, where schools, settings and partners provide an exciting environment which ensures inclusion and success for everyone. We see our borough as being one of the best places in the country for young people to grow, learn, develop and achieve and one of the best places for colleagues to work and thrive in our education system. I know that your own school aims will underpin your reflections on what you want to develop and sustain moving forward.

So, key themes for me, looking ahead, are attention to quality first teaching and what underpins it, to understanding and providing for more vulnerable groups while tackling the inequalities which may increase vulnerability, and attention to professional development for all my colleagues. I also want to build further the partnerships which have grown during this period and which support all the above themes.

We can be proud of the work that has been undertaken as a family of Hackney schools, and our common understanding that children and young people come first will continue to be a feature of our work in the coming term. We hope that you can join us at the briefing for headteachers that has been arranged for 9am – 9.45am on Thursday 22 April, where we will again share new updates and best practice.

In the meantime, I wish you the very best for the forthcoming holiday and wish you well if you are celebrating Easter, Passover or beginning Ramadan. Please make sure you have a well deserved break. I very much look forward to seeing you in the summer term.

With best wishes

Annie Gammon
Director of Education
@HackneyDirofEd

The importance of connections, learning and sense of belonging

Dear Headteachers, Principals, and Setting Leader Colleagues

Thank you very much for all you are doing at this time. As you know it matters significantly to children to be able to be in schools and settings, with the connections, learning and sense of belonging that school brings. Thank you for providing for our children during this challenging period.

You may well have been dealing with covid cases over the past week. In October through to the first two weeks of November, there were around 30 cases per week in educational or childcare settings, while in the last two weeks there were over 50 cases per week – the majority individual ones, but some in a cluster of cases. I know this is a concern and each case brings a range of tasks with it to ensure safety of others and prevent the spread of the virus. We are seeing the figures in the general population in Hackney fall and I hope we will see this replicated in our schools and settings.

You and your teams will have been doing a host of other work too – ensuring all our children are learning and progressing well. I have been very impressed by the range of learning being evidenced across all year groups – and the recent timely input for our older pupils about sixth form and post 18 choices. Thank you for sharing such good examples of pupil work, both with SIPs and on social media/your websites.

I attended part of the annual Safaplace conference on the morning of Saturday, 21 November 2020. This event, usually run at Stoke Newington School, was run virtually. I was struck by several things the opening speaker, David Weaver, Chair of BACP (British Association of Counsellors and Psychotherapists) said: he pointed out that at times where anxiety is high it is important to be able to talk, yet the current anxiety inducing covid situation tends to reduce opportunities to talk. Do remember the opportunities in school which you and your leaders can give to talk virtually or in person are really valuable. Also at the conference was an excellent speaker on neurodiversity. My understanding of dyslexia and the emotional impact of having a different way of learning has definitely moved on through attending the session run by Siobhan Moore-Lynch, she has inspired me to read the splendidly titled “Proust and the Squid: the story and science of the reading brain”.

I was struck, as we look ahead to the possibilities of a new normal next year, by the history of two of the scientists working on the vaccine. You can find out more about the two Turkish born immigrants.

I wish you well for the rest of term. We have a Headteachers’ briefing on Tuesday, 12 January 2021, at 9.15am – 10am. I look forward to seeing you then, if not before. We will have more news for you of covid related issues, a look at assessment and at school place planning.

With warmest wishes to you and your teams,

Annie Gammon
Director of Education
@HackneyDirofEd