Why knowledge matters?

Yesterday I spent the day bumping into pupils – they were sat outside my door – revising for their last tests before the Christmas break. I had to explain ionic bonding and thermal conduction mechanisms to Year 8 pupils in two minutes before the librarian told us off for making too much noise.

This moment is the one I take away from my day. Why? To have a crowd of boys begging to know stuff about science so they can do well in their tests, arguing with each other how to do dot cross diagrams of covalent bonds in their break time means I have made knowledge matter to them without ever having to say it directly. That is just the way we are. This is Year 8 and these tests are our own internal tests written by our staff following our own curriculum. We have made knowledge matter to the pupils.

The day before I came across one of my favourite naughty girls arguing with her maths teacher about why she had to study maths as he went over her grade for her test that week. She was obviously disappointed as her score was still a red but she had gone up from 16% to 26% in half a term. He resolutely argued back and congratulated her on making a jump forwards. That good natured conversation will continue throughout the year.

I had a visit from two more Year 8 girls who came to tell me that one them had gone from red to green and achieved a maths score of 68% even though she is in the bottom set. She was a little bit annoyed that a boy had beaten her to top place in the group with 72% but was nevertheless very proud of what she had done.

During this last week we produced 59 separate tests which pupils from Year 8 to 10 sat under examination conditions on rotation through out the week. These results will be used to write home to parents in the New Year. Set changes will happen if pupils have done enough to warrant a move in English, Mathematics and the three sciences. Every child in the school takes this seriously without exception. Some crumble under the scrutiny. However, there is no hiding. We know our pupils back to front and sideways, from the ones who have a recurring illness in examination week to those who behave badly looking for any excuse to avoid judgement. Even the pupils who are out on fixed term exclusions do our tests at home.

I see the pupils and the school change during examination week. After the first one this year in October, we saw Year 7 become our pupils and take a huge step forwards. The whole school moved forwards and everyone changed. We are proud that our pupils know a lot of stuff. Our teachers know our pupils know more than would be expected at their age. This has the effect of changing the way we talk to each other and how we look at our school.

That wasn’t all I saw yesterday. In amongst all the tests and revision our science department came alive. I was told to visit a biology lesson and watch as Year 8 were busy being instructed on how to dissect lungs. Mr Berglund had the class enthralled as he demonstrated the process of dissection whilst the bright eyed pupils found it hard not to stare with their mouths open as he asked them to identify each part of the lungs and explain its function. They were then allowed to do their own dissections. I doubt they will forget that in a rush. I wonder if he inspired any future surgeons there and then.

At the end of the day, which was already long, I found a science club filled with Year 7 pupils making bath bombs. I believe this went on for an hour after the pupils’ examination timetable had finished. There were a great many smiling faces leaving at 5:30pm.

Before I left I was accosted by Oscar in Year 9.

Oscar: “Sir why is it that no two electrons can occupy the same quantum state?”

Me: “Good question. Why is not the right question Oscar. Science tells us what is rather than why it is. But it is true that Pauli’s exclusion principle is never broken. However, in a Bose-Einstein condensate electrons act in a different way which would seem to break that rule. But that is a bit tricky to explain.”

Oscar: “Isn’t that how superconductors work”

Me: “Yes”

Oscar: “I think they have found a material that behaves like that at quite a high temperature and its cheap”

Me: “Let’s get some then – you look it up and we’ll see if we can order some”

Oscar: “Great”

Today is our last day before Christmas. There aren’t many examinations left to do. It is after all staff panto day. Written by Year 10 and performed by the staff to the younger pupils, it will I expect be a riotous farewell to the term.

A well deserved one for all our pupils and staff.

David Perks

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