‘April is the cruellest month,’ said TS Eliot but January surely runs a close second. Relentless rain, gusts of freezing wind and seemingly constant darkness do little to inspire. Damp students huddle in corridors at lunchtimes and water creeps its way into every part of the building. And yet despite all that, there is an air of constant optimism in the school. While parents and staff struggle through colds and the flu, young people bounce back quickly and continue to get involved in a huge range of activities. The spring term sees the real work begin as we move towards GCSEs and A Levels and there is a real sense of purpose around the place. Current predictions suggest that we are heading for another outstanding set of results and there is a sense of confidence in the school which students find inspiring. Woodroffe, they recognise, is a place where they can excel, they can do their best and, if they work hard, the rewards will follow. Not such a grim month after all.
At the start of January, it was a pleasure to welcome Bradley Simmons, the Regional Director of Ofsted, into the school. He had asked to come and visit thanks to the school’s reputation and I am delighted to say that he wasn’t disappointed with what he saw, so much so that he plans to encourage other members of his team to visit Woodroffe so that they can learn what an outstanding school looks like. I was particularly pleased by his feedback because I didn’t warn the staff he was coming; I wanted him to visit on a normal working day. He toured the school, visiting classrooms, watching teaching and talking to students, with complete informality. As a result, he saw some superb teaching and was easily able to get a sense of the vibrant learning environment that we all work so hard to create.
January is a very busy time for the Sixth Form as students consider their university offers and prepare for the next stages of their careers. We were delighted to learn that two students have been offered places at Oxbridge and there are dozens of others now holding offers to some of the best universities in the country. In addition to supporting students through the increasingly complex UCAS process, the Sixth Form team have been dealing with applications to join the Sixth Form in September. With the imminent closure of the Sixth Form at Axe Valley, Woodroffe has now become the natural choice for students in the local area. Exeter College is able to offer the technical and vocational qualifications we cannot but for the majority of academic subjects, Woodroffe is the obvious place to choose. With its combination of academic success, personal support and extra-curricular opportunities, it is hard to see why students opt to go elsewhere.
Meanwhile, in the lower school, I am pleased to report that in a world seemingly obsessed by science and technology, the classical world is making a comeback. Around twenty-six students from Years 7 and 8 have begun learning Latin after school, following the fascinating Cambridge Latin course, and such is the interest in learning the language we are now offering it in one of the subject pathways in Year 9 from September. This will link up neatly with the double GCSE course, Classical Civilisation/Ancient History, offered in Years 10 and 11, and, of course, prepare students for the very successful and popular Classical Civilisation A Level course in the Sixth Form. Who says state schools don’t do Classics?
With Ofsted and other educational bodies pointing to the narrowing of the curriculum at Key Stages 2 and 3, it is good to see that Woodroffe continues to buck the trend. As a National Maths Hub, we have access to the latest thinking in Maths and superb opportunities for our students; our Science department outperformed every other Science department in the county last summer; with Latin in place, we now offer three languages; we are still able to offer Drama and Music in every year group; we have enormous strengths in History, Geography and RE; and our excellence in Art was fully demonstrated by this month’s exhibitions at The Town Mill and Lyme Regis Museum. Perhaps most pleasing of all, was the number of students who turned up at lunchtime to listen to the first of a new series of lectures offered by the English Department, the first of which was on that great masterpiece of English life, Wind in the Willows. I hope they enjoyed the lecture; if not, they will have certainly enjoyed meeting Mr. Badger, who made a surprise guest appearance - a sure sign that spring is on its way.