What is it like to go back to school?
Many of us describe our school days as the best days of our lives. But what is it like to go back to school years after you left the first time around?
I was able to find out what it’s like to study at the secondary school today that helped me become who I am now.
It is a school that has recently been told it is ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted, when it was previously rated as ‘good’ in all areas. So what does an ‘inadequate’ school look like?
As I walk through the doors of Kings CofE School, formerly known as Regis, it’s hard to imagine what it was like when I was there back in 2000. A series of flags show the school’s new motto ‘Aspire, Believe, Achieve, Together’. All I can think is that I hope I don’t get put in a maths lesson first thing – some things never change.
Now, instead of pupils filing past the canteen on their way in – where I remember practically every day eating toast, crumpets and sausage baps (I was a growing girl...) – all classrooms lead off one main staircase, with three floors and classrooms lining the sides of school corridors.
As I’m greeted by principal James Ludlow and deputy Phil Sutton, I try and gain my bearings. In my first lesson, I join a group of students are taking part in a session to discussing new names for the school houses. Currently, they are Oak, Cedar, Beech and Elm, each represented by a different colour of green and blue on the school logo, and the students’ ties. When I was at Kings, I was in Jade house, with houses Opal, Sapphire and Amber. Now the school is to reduce the number of houses to three, with suggestions made of the names of mountains, kings, plants and rivers.
Joshua Lee, 14, is in Year 9 and is from Ettingshall. His parents are maths lecturers and he has hopes to follow in their footsteps. He suggested the houses be named after mountains. He said: “I think time at school is like a mountain you have to climb, you have to aspire and believe to get to the top and it only comes through hard work. I think that it can be difficult but if you keep going you will get there.”
This could be applied to the school at large, after an inspection in March this year resulted in the school being deemed as ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted in three out of five assessed areas. The principal wrote to parents ahead of the report to express his disappointment and recently held an awards ceremony for the pupils called ‘The Pride of Kings Awards.’
Indeed, it does not feel like a school that has ‘inconsistent teaching’, ‘low attendance’ and ‘inadequate outcomes for pupils’.
Anya Bradshaw, 13, of Tettenhall is in Year 9. She is already an accomplished musician, with a grade six qualification in the harp. Heather Reeves, 14, of Pendeford plays the saxophone to a high level too and is studying health and social care, music and art. Ibrahim Cisse, 14, of Bushbury is taking business, French, geography and triple science with ambitions to run his own business. The pupils are just some of the 729 studying at the school, from a wide catchment area across the city. Children are separated into sets based on ability (I won’t mention what set I was in!). , though some of their lessons are held in mixed groups. I was in set two when I arrived and by year eight was in set one (just about in maths!)
Next I head quietly into an English lesson, run by Mr Singh, where Year 8 students are doing accelerated reading. The session is not about how fast you read - just about reading more often.
Mr Williams then heads up a history lesson for the Year 11s. Questions are topical and terrifying – ‘In the context of the years 1878 to 1997, to what extent were differing ideologies the main cause for poor relations between USA and Russia?’ Answers on a postcard please. Then we dash to Mr Patel’s physics revision session. A group of year 11s are recapping the rules of momentum and the formulas that make the mind boggle. I make my escape.
A geography lesson with Mr Edwards sees me learn about the density of population in London, looks at population changes during the baby boom periods of the 1950s. Then the bell rings. As each bell rings out, the corridors are packed with chatting students bustling between lessons, dashing down staircases, and congregating on corners.
Teachers spot me on the way to my next session. Rather than telling me off for my nail varnish and badges on my blazer, they hug me and ask how I’m doing. Teachers here supported me through the death of my father when I was 16, and encouraged me to apply to the University of Cambridge where I later attended. Without them, I don’t think I’d have passed my exams let alone gone to university.
I continue to be chaperoned by a group of Year 9 pupils then a group of year 11s that have just completed their maths GCSE exam earlier that day. I have horrifying memories of that exam, scraping a pass with a grade C second time around.
Accomplished sports woman, Casey Ryder, 16 of Rakegate, said: “I’m so relieved. I just wanted it over with. I’m feeling positive.It’s one of those things that you know you have to do, so you just have to face the fear.”
The pupils all have strong feelings about the Ofsted report that came out in May.
George Jandu, 16, of Tettenhall, talks to me about it the Ofsted report. He said: “I don’t think it was very fair. I don’t feel like what we do is inadequate. I think a lot of it was based on old data from exam results, but when we get our results we’ll show how much better it is.”
They then take me to visit one of the newest additions to the school, the farm. Weaving in between the technology building and the old library, a grassy path reveals the well-tended chicken coups, bird houses, and goat enclosures along with outside classrooms.
Goats Monty, Orea, Flump and Puzzle are cared for by the students who put what they learn in biology as well as maths, English and other subjects into practice.
Miss McNish, manager of the farm said: “It’s a way of giving the students the chance to explore what they are learning in real terms and in real life.
“People studying Holes in English for example, were able to come out here and work out how big the holes actually were, it really brings the details of the books they read to life.
“Then we have all the data from the different plants and insects that are living here, along with the animals themselves which are all cared for by the students.
“It gives them a sense of responsibility and is very much a hands-on experience for them as many may not have their own gardens.”
The farm is the last place I visit, meeting goats Monty, Oreo, Flump and Puzzle – a welcome change from the office. and before I end the day at the school. I don’t want to go back to the office
The school may not be as recognisable to me as it once was then, and it may have some new surprising additions, but the impression it leaves you with is the same. The teachers still care just as much as they always did. The pupils each have their own ambitions which are encouraged and developed. The questions may be harder, the buildings changed, (and there’s more goats) but school is still as much of a haven as it was to me 17 years ago. So, what’s the next lesson?