APPENDIX 6: VISIT TO LITTLE HEATH SCHOOL,
Friday 30 June 2006
Members visiting Little Heath School were Lord Broers
(Chairman), Lord Paul, the Earl of Selborne and Lord Taverne,
with Tom Wilson (Clerk) and Dr Cathleen Schulte (Committee
Specialist) in attendance.
The Committee was welcomed by Mr Mike Wheale (Head
Teacher), Ms Sally Thurlow (Assistant Head) and Ms Tima Lund (Head
of Department, Science). Little Heath had been a specialist school
in science and mathematics for three years, and its excellence
was demonstrated by the exemplary reports from Ofsted.
Mr Wheale emphasised the fundamental importance of
recruiting and retaining bright and lively teachers who could
offer high quality and enjoyable teaching. Even for a successful
school such as Little Heath, where the specialist status was an
added draw, it was necessary to work very hard on retentionparticularly
in a relatively affluent place such as Reading. The cost of housing
was a particular problem and the key worker housing scheme, whilst
helpful, was fairly complex and limited.
It was felt that market mechanisms already applied
to the recruitment and retention of teachers of shortage subjects,
in spite of claims to the contrary. Good science teachers were
generally paid more, whether through accelerated promotion or
other means, to ensure that they were not tempted away by more
senior or well-paid jobs elsewhere. On the other side of the coin,
Mr Wheale also accepted the potential benefits of recruiting returners
or newcomers from industry or elsewhere, although he felt that
some of them might find it difficult to adapt to modern teaching
It was suggested that there was a bewildering and
unstructured plethora of organisations offering continuing professional
development (CPD) for teachers. Whilst some of Little Heath's
staff had attended courses at the National Science Learning Centre
in York, which had been beneficial, Mr Wheale felt that sending
staff on courses at the school's nearest science learning centre
(in Southampton) was not necessarily the best use of resources.
He suggested that the funding should "follow the teacher"
as a consumer of training services, rather than going direct to
the providing institution, which risked duplicating training provision
at great expense.
Among the science teachers present, there was a feeling
that local cluster groupsenabling neighbouring teachers
to meet on regular occasions to swap best practicecould
be more effective than undertaking CPD at a dedicated institution.
In addition, teachers from other schools often came to look at
Little Heath which, as a specialist school, was encouraged to
act as an exemplar.
With regard to testing, there was a general feeling
that the national curriculum testsfar from being onerouswere
useful for focusing the minds of students and teachers alike.
It was, though, important for teachers to teach the subjects appropriately
and not to allow the tests to dominate their methods.
The new GCSE science courses, which were coming into
force in September, were welcomed. Little Heath was planning to
teach the Twenty First Century Science syllabus. The latter was
felt to be more relevant to people's lives whilst retaining plenty
of "hard science", thus allowing students to make sensible
value judgements about science later in life. The teachers had
been on training courses to learn about the new courses and schemes
of work had been purchasedwhich meant that staff would
not have to spend the whole summer preparing. It was felt that
not all schools would be able to take such a supportive approach
to preparing their science teachers, however. There were also
potential difficulties in providing the IT facilities that the
new syllabus required.
The condition of school laboratories was a major
issue: even Little Heath, a successful specialist school, had
some poor quality laboratories in huts. However, the school had
cheaply and quickly upgraded a number of laboratories for around
£30,000, which was excellent value for money. It was felt
that better use of the Government's Targeted Capital Fund would
yield impressive results in schools.
Mr Wheale expressed concern that physics, chemistry,
mathematics and biology A-levels were harder than other subjects,
citing evidence from the Advanced Level Information System (ALIS).
Unsurprisingly, this could lead to students spurning science and
mathematics A-levels in favour of easier subjects; instead, there
ought to be a broad equivalence between subjects.
The Committee were joined by Mr Jeff Trim (Leader,
Further Maths Project) and Mr Steve Rayner (Leader, Sixth Form
Maths). The mathematics department had achieved very impressive
results and, in particular, the high A-level Performance System
(ALPS) "value-added" scores demonstrated how high quality
teaching was improving students' attainment levels. The students
were thought to be encouraged by the dedication of staff, who
gave up their own time to help with "Funbus" (an after-school
mathematics session with a very high ratio of teachers to students)
and to conduct a revision weekend before exams. In addition, the
mathematics teachers (along with the science teachers) regularly
visited the local feeder primary schools, thus maintaining an
excellent liaison between the schools and ensuring educational
Finally, Mr Trim explained that he was the manager
of the Berkshire Further Mathematics Centre, one of 46 across
the country. The aim of the centres was to make further mathematics
teaching available to any student in the country that wanted it.
In its first year, the Berkshire centre had taught 20 students
(400 nationally), all from schools where small numbers or lack
of staff expertise made further mathematics teaching impossible.
Mr Trim did two days work for the centre each week.