Not so long ago, I wrote in these pages about Katie, one of my sixth-form students who had secured an internship at Harvard. This led to a wider reflection on the school I work in and its community. Since then, Merthyr Tydfil and the valley communities of south Wales have endured further economic, financial and social pressure in the recession. What this rather euphemistic phrase really means for school communities is that we have an even greater responsibility to keep alive the sense that the future is amazing and one of endless possibility for our learners. This is our mission and this is why we are driven by our twin themes of social mobility and social justice. I previously noted that Katie's success proved that it's not where you come from that matters, it's where you want to go.
Our recent Estyn inspection has helped reinforce, and celebrate, the partnerships that must exist if any school is to maintain and develop such ambitions. The inspection team found that our school has an "outstanding culture where there are high levels of mutual respect". Our learners want to learn and are given the support needed to succeed. Our combined efforts have ensured that "the significant value added to the achievement and attainment of pupils across the ability range is outstanding". We are a truly inclusive school community where personal and academic achievement is nurtured and celebrated.
One of the most pleasing, and powerful, findings made by the inspectors was that Pen y Dre is a school where "exceptional people work exceptionally hard to ensure that all staff and learners achieve their potential". This finding serves to reinvigorate us in our quest to give our learning community the self-confidence and dignity it deserves.
I feel that Estyn is part of our learning community. This is the third inspection I've been through, the other two being Ofsteds in English schools - a very different beast, as I recall.
Inspections are a funny old thing, aren't they? Some fantastic teachers become positively ashen-faced when the date is fixed, especially if their department is one of the "chosen few" identified for closer scrutiny. Reactions inevitably range from the blase ("I know I'm brilliant") to the belligerent ("What do they know, anyway?") to a whole range of self-doubts in between. But the truth will usually out. The inspectors will find what they find and, in our case, that was a thorough, fair and accurate picture of what we are doing to increase the life chances of our charges.
The consultation process about changes to the inspection regime has now ended, and I know other colleagues in this paper have raised both their concerns and their hopes about the shape future inspections might take.
The role of the peer assessor will apparently be given more prominence, and this must surely be a good thing. I recently completed peer assessor training and was deployed just after our own inspection to another school in south Wales. I hope I succeeded in using my professional expertise to support the school's nominee, and the team as a whole, in making fair and accurate judgments about fellow colleagues. One of the best ways of moving schools forward is to listen to serving teachers and their views and to use that expertise to help shape judgments and recommendations.
An area of our school's work that warrants particular mention is the sixth form. Management of provision for the sixth form was judged by Estyn as highly effective, resulting in "many outstanding features in aspects of provision and the standards that students achieve". It was felt that our school "provides wide-ranging opportunities for sixth-formers to study the subjects of their choice... (and) the Welsh baccalaureate and the Merthyr Tydfil consortium links extend curricular opportunities".
Overall, the inspectors said, the sixth form at Pen y Dre achieves "good value for money", with standards of teaching and assessment revealing many outstanding features. Our students go on to a whole range of destinations appropriate to their qualifications and ambitions.
I mention this in the context of the recent announcement by Merthyr Council to start consultations about closing the authority's four sixth forms and replacing them with tertiary provision. We await the consultations with interest, not least because our recent inspection has shown that we are providing an extremely successful, cost-effective education for the whole range of post-16 learners. We have fully embraced the Learning Country vision for post-devolution education and have developed pathways that have ensured better engagement, better value for money and better outcomes. We are committed to ensuring that the needs of Pen y Dre learners and the expertise of Pen y Dre teachers are taken fully into account in any discussions taking place about the future of post-16 learning in Merthyr.
Keith Maher, Assistant head, Pen y Dre High, Merthyr Tydfil.