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A Visit to Chipping Norton School
Keith Greenwell writes:

I recently led a group of Chippy First Councillors to visit Chipping Norton School  The group consisted of myself with Gerry Alcock, Sue Bartholomew and Kristel Withers. We had been invited by the headmaster to see for ourselves how the school was performing following comments I had made about the disappointing results achieved in this years GCSE. The percentage of kids getting 5 GCSEs at level A* - C (including English and Maths) had suddenly nosedived from 65% in 2007 to 54% in 2008 and nobody seemed to know why.

We arrived at the start of the school day. Several of us  attended the School Morning Assembly. We listened to the headmaster's address and then watched  the young entrepreneurs of Chippy School - calling their company "The Polkadots and Bobs" receive their award for making the best presentation in a recent competition among teams from North Oxfordshire Schools.

The Head Master then formally welcomed us to the school and gave us some background information before we left for a tour in individual groups to see some classes in progress. Speaking for myself the immediate thing that struck me was the sense of calm in the school. Maybe in my day things were a little more boisterous. In Chippy School pupils appeared well ordered and extremely well behaved.

Sue and I dropped in on a class for Geography who were doing an exercise on crime, a Physics class, an English class that were working on aspects of writing advertising copy, a maths class and then a further science class. We saw a dance class rehearsing for a performance, we saw examples of work done in textiles and watched pupils designing and producing a Pasta meal.  Gerry thought the music teaching was inspirational. One group were revising the "characteristics of house music" and another were studying composition. The engineering design class had crafted some quite amazing pieces of furniture. The graphic design class were using Photoshop to produce professional-standard board games, while in another IT class Powerpoint presentations were being being prepared which were quite superb. Then there was a drama workshop going on in one of the beautifully equipped studio areas. All in all in just a couple of hours we saw  the most extraordinary range of activities and subjects - and  all of them were being taught with a freshness and enthusiasm and were deeply involving the students.

The teaching staff we met and watched were impressive. From my perspective everyone appeared to be doing a good job, committed to getting the best out of the kids they were teaching.

All this is great but it merely added to the puzzle: Why have the GCSE exam results as measured by 5 A* - C including English and Maths declined so sharply. A question we pursued again over coffee with the head and a group of teachers. So could the Head Master provide some explanation What we had seen impressed us, so what was happening Was there something structurally wrong with secondary education across Oxfordshire There were only two schools in the county that achieved an outstanding rating from Ofsted, Chipping Norton School rated good a middle of the road grading. Mr Duffy's explanation of the exam results was that the school had suffered from some kind of marking aberration - particularly in English where we were told the school had tried to appeal a large number of the results - unsuccessfully. Well if papers were incorrectly marked it is last years Chipping Norton children that are the losers. Its really surprising that the governors haven't been protesting about this so loudly that everyone in the town and the county has heard them!

However Mr Duffy and the Deputy Heads are confident that this year the results will be back to previous levels so by late Summer we will know whether 2008 was just an aberration. Likewise there is a confidence that at the next Ofsted inspection the school will be assessed as outstanding. These two forecasts represent an impressive confidence in the school's continuing performance and we wish them success in meeting them.

One last point about something which did surprise some of us. The school has excellent grounds and facilities like the MUGA and almost total use of the Sports Centre -  but the classroom blocks are a different matter. There are some recent additions of a very high standard but we were very unimpressed with the older parts. They may be nicely painted and maintained but they are a hotch potch collection that the school has tried to adapt as best it can. Some years ago Gordon Brown committed this Government to replacing and rebuilding every secondary school in the country. It would be great to see that happen here in Chipping Norton. We should be pressing for a modern integrated school in keeping with the excellent teaching we saw. Buildings that everyone, pupils, teachers, governors and the people of Chipping Norton can be proud of. We were really impressed by the commitment of all the teaching staff. It would be nice if they worked in school buildings which were worthy of that commitment. But to be fair the last word should be with Kristel Withers who went to the school not so long ago and whose son attends now. "Its a lot lot better than it was in my day. I was well impressed with everything"

Many thanks to the headmaster and his staff for organising such an eye-opening morning for me and my colleagues.


Keith Mitchell, Tory leader of Oxfordshire County Council, admitted on Monday that schools in the county should be performing better at GCSEs. Good to know that OCC are at last waking up to their responsibilities. Its interesting that Town Councillor Keith Greenwell recently made exactly the same point about GCSE performance at Chippy School  and was savaged for his trouble at a Council meeting. Indeed school governor Councillor Gina Burrows recently quoted Keith's comments as one of her reasons for not voting for him as Mayor. Its about time the governors of Chippy School woke up and smelt the coffee. More than that, perhaps local Tory town councillors (like newly-elected Deputy Mayor Butterworth) will now show as much concern about GCSE results as their leader Keith Mitchell does.