By The Dart talks to the headmaster of one of the leading schools in the South West and nationally
Churston Ferrers Grammar School is a mixed selective school teaching students aged 11 to 18 years. Over its fifty two year history it has been extensively developed and indeed has seen many additions and improvements over the last decade including a recently opened Learning Resource Centre.
It has built a reputation as a lively and caring community with a tradition for high academic and sporting achievement. The Headmaster since 2007 is Bob Owers B.A.(Hons), NPQH.
Bob (pictured) was born and raised in Essex, went away to university in Warwick and then returned to Essex to teach. He admits to enjoying his own school days, particularly the extra curricular sporting activities.
Like many boys, he initially wanted to be a footballer and he did train for eighteen months with Tottenham. However, by the time he reached sixth form, he had set his focus on being a PE teacher although he ended up doing a history degree almost by default, so that he would have a second subject to go along side physical education.
As it turned out, his first job was as a PE and history teacher but he much preferred teaching history! He remembers that he was inspired by his own history teachers at school and says, “Teachers can be so important to your self esteem one way or the other and self esteem has everything to do with success no matter what your age.”
Prior to CFGS he was Deputy Head at Chelmsford Girls School, a high performing school and before that he taught at two big comprehensive schools. Over this period, he came to the conclusion that some students did not get a very good deal!
He believes that, “Once you get into the selective system, it may not be absolutely perfect, but it does enable students who want to learn to do that and also to do it with other like-minded students which is fantastic for them.”
So with all this in mind he applied for the advertised position of Headmaster at Churston. He and his family are now very happily settled into the Galmpton community only four minutes away from the school and he says he is not planning on making another move any time soon!
CFGS is very much a ‘local’ school drawing its intake mainly within a 5 mile radius. To attend CFGS, prospective students have to sit an entrance examination which consists of verbal reasoning, maths and English papers.
It is a competitive process – there are usually about 270 candidates for 130 places. A parental decision to apply for a place should be taken with the guidance of their child’s primary school as it is not in anybody’s interest, particularly the child concerned, to fail the process. Also being in a mixed school environment can be a better option than a single sex school for some children.
Bob acknowledges that, “At CFGS my staff and I recognise that we are privileged to work with some of the country’s most able and talented young people. As a selective school it is our responsibility to ensure that learning is challenging and engaging so that the very best students achieve the very best outcomes.”
The school’s main focus is to develop students as effective learners. Part of that is to ensure they achieve exam success. Bob says “we don’t take our eye off that because the entrance to university and the workplace is increasingly competitive so those grades have got to be met.” He does acknowledge, however, that sometimes the examination system is counterproductive to producing effective learners.
So in the lower school they have a ‘learning to learn’ lesson every week. “This is not just about study skills as it used to be but also to teach students to become team players, to encourage their motivation, helping them to develop their self and what they want to achieve rather than to just sit there and be a vessel that is filled up with factual knowledge to pass an exam.
After all, when they get to A levels and university they have to know how to do it for themselves.” This approach obviously is working with the school achieving excellent and ever improving Ofsted results year on year in all 36 categories and with exam results that put them at the top of league tables in the South West and in the top 100 schools nationwide.
Bob also believes that as a school they should help pupils to grow up into decent young people, have some fun and to help them through the ‘angst’ of being a teenager. To that end the school has a strong pastoral system which underpins academic study. Pastoral team Leaders and the tutorial staff provide guidance and support tailored to the needs of each student and additional support is provided for students by trained adult and senior student listeners who can sort out many problems that might arise.
Churston believes that extra curricula activities are fundamental to both a happy work/life balance and in developing skills for life – resilience, teamwork, leadership – all those skills that are known to make a difference. All students are strongly encouraged to take advantage of the wide range of activities available.
The school stands in extensive grounds which cater for a broad range of sports such as football, rugby, cricket, basketball, netball, hockey, swimming, athletics and many others. There are regular drama productions and many different musical activities and clubs for art, production of a newspaper and much more besides.
Students are also able to participate in many trips both at home and abroad. Many of these are due to the school being linked with other schools in France, Germany, Spain, Finland, Estonia and Peru. Students are engaged with a range of projects that support learning in their partner schools locally and abroad.
At the time of writing, six students had just returned from Finland where they had led a conference on climate change even though they were the youngest there! CFGS does a lot of work with local, national and international communities raising money and doing community work and they have just received the Full International Schools Award in recognition of their international work.
Talking to Bob Owers and walking around the school you certainly get the impression that they have hit on a winning formula and as Bob says, “the bottom line is that an outstanding school has students that respect each other, staff that respect the students and students who respect the staff, all borne out of mutual respect for working together towards a common aim.
Students will feel good about themselves, feel valued and supported. Staff can, therefore, enjoy themselves teaching and coming to work every day. That is what makes this school outstanding. I can truly say I look forward coming to school and I go home energised!”
First published November 2009 By the Dart