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Welcome Back!

12th September 2018

After such a glorious summer, an equally warm welcome to Wychwood to all our new parents and welcome back to our current parents. Walking up the main stairs (known as the Red Stairs, despite the green carpet) at lunch time today and listening to the hubbub of girls around the staff room, the office and the front hall, it feels so good to have everyone back and engaged – it was too quiet at Wychwood for too long this summer!

At A Level, with a 100% pass rate, 49% of grades awarded at A*-B and 18% at A* last year’s Study II girls have been well rewarded for their endeavours. The staff have been the backbone of those young women’s successes and are a very proud body of teachers. We congratulate Emilia on her straight A* grades in History, Economics and English Literature as well as an A* for her EPQ  and wish her every success as she moves on to Birmingham University to read History and Politics – a future leader in the making we believe. We also congratulate Fei for her straight As which are taking her to Manchester to read Materials Science and Engineering. While I have not mentioned the other girls by name there are some on there of whom we are even prouder because their good grades were gained by dint of real struggles leading to eventual success.

The Shell 2018 who sat GCSEs faced up to a difficult year in the education system and have come through with flying colours. They have had to contend with a great deal of uncertainty in the media about the linear examinations they have sat and this has not always filled them with confidence. We would like to pay tribute to their resilience in the face of negative discussion of difficulty levels and congratulate them wholeheartedly to their achievements which are individually and collectively impressive. With 8.5% grade 9 (twice the national average) and 20% Grades 8 and 9 alongside 40% Grade A* in the non-reformed qualifications, these girls will have surprised themselves. Their results are testament to their hard work and determination to succeed and the governors and staff are delighted with Shell 2018. This is backed up with 60% A*A and 37% Grades 7-9 and so we wish the girls every success in the next phase of their education. They will approach this with the firm knowledge that they are much better than they had dreaded and considerably better than many had dared to dream.

We welcome new staff this term – in the main subject departments, Mr Philip Humphreys will be teaching geography and as an Independent Schools Inspector will be giving us the benefit of his expertise. Miss Amy Wardell comes to us from St Helen and St Katherine in Abingdon to take over the art department and Mrs Mary Lord will be teaching mathematics and is the Inters form tutor. In drama we have a familiar face – Mrs Mandy Constance is teaching drama and LAMDA this year. Our German tutor has changed and Miss Rachel Nicholson has taken over German tuition and German club. We have a new  Dutch tutor in Mrs Karin de Wijs and a new Latin tutor in Mr Martin Roberts. In the support department Mrs Julia Hess will be helping girls with mathematics. Miss Shaw, the gap student from South Africa went home over the summer and was offered a maternity cover job in journalism, which is where she wants to begin her career and decided not to return. We have appointed Miss Taylor who is local to Oxford to be a gap student for this term and we also welcome Miss Wiesner from Germany who will be with us for a year as Miss Davies’ successor as a gap assistant.

This is the year when we launched the BTEC examinations:  we were very disappointed to find out with two weeks to go before the beginning of term that the Department for Education had rejected the new Travel and Tourism BTEC specification and so we took the decision not to offer that this year. However, the Business BTEC is up and running at Level 3 (equivalent to A Level)  and the Music BTEC is also running happily at Level 2 (equivalent to GCSE). The pioneering BTEC girls had lunch together with their staff  in the first week to talk through what they were looking forward to and how it would work. The orienteering promised for last weekend has been postponed until after the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award launch meeting on Monday 24th September when all girls opting to do any level of DofE can take part. Monday evening brought one of the most enjoyable events of the year with the Welcome to Wychwood Sixth dinner where girls enjoy Wendy’s delicious food and get to know their progress tutors. The Study II offered heartfelt advice about what to do and what to avoid and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

In September 2018 we all have that marvellous slightly scary feeling this now is the time for a fresh start. That feeling that September is the real beginning of everyone’s year is driven by us – the schools. For some girls and parents, this is the beginning of your time at Wychwood – we wish you every happiness and success while you are here. For others it is time to take up the cudgels again and even we really can make a fresh start. Something that will help every one of us make that fresh start work is something that I hope the girls will all keep in mind throughout this year – the aggregation of marginal gains. This was most famously advocated by Sir Dave Brailsford who was appointed General Manager and Performance Director for Team Sky which launched in 2010. In 2010 no English rider had ever won the Tour de France. Team Sky’s ambition was to win the Tour de France with a British rider within five years, a fairly ambitious target for something that had never happened in one of the most gruelling endurance events on earth. Between 2010 and 2018 Team Sky achieved six Tour wins in seven years, with the first coming three years ahead of schedule in 2012. That constitutes a fairly masterful and emphatic statement of ambition achieved. As Heraclitus the Ephesian philosopher said – ‘big results require big ambitions’. I very much hope than many of the girls have big ambitions for their fresh start this year and for the rest of their time at Wychwood. Team Sky and Dave Brailsford achieved their big ambitions in much less time than anyone thought possible, using the aggregation of marginal gains. They looked at everything that went into a Tour de France and tried to do each thing just that little bit better. And all those little bits added up to success. For girls, a major project and big ambitions can be very scary but little things are not so I want the girls to look for little little differences and to harness the value of making small improvements on a daily basis. Almost every habit that any of us has — good or bad — is the result of many small decisions over time. That is why at Wychwood we emphasis Habits of Mind – getting into good habits is so important and when something good become a habit we can make really significant improvements. Yet, how easily we forget this when we want to make a change. Small improvements of just 1 percent are not always notable (and sometimes aren’t even noticeable). But they can be just as meaningful. I have made a number of suggestions to the girls about what they might try but these things are often best coming from the girls’ own ideas. I wanted you as parents to know what we are about and we would welcome any support you can give your daughters in making their own way this year through the aggregation of marginal gains.

Until next week.

Andrea Johnson