Head of St Augustine’s Priory delivers opening speech of Heads' conference
Sarah Raffray, Headteacher of St Augustine's Priory, gave the opening speech as Chair of the Society of Heads at their annual conference. She spoke about the challenges schools faced in the past two years and discussed the theme 'Creating Space'.
7th March 2022 — Mrs Sarah Raffray, Headteacher of St Augustine’s Priory, Ealing and Chair of the Society of Heads, opened the organisation's annual conference by introducing the conference theme of Creating Space.
Examining the past two years of COVID, the situation schools now find themselves in, and looking to the future, Sarah Raffray said: "School leaders have needed every ounce of creativity to care for every member of their community and we know the pressures continue.
"We all created space to balance our approach to bringing people with us."
Mrs Raffray paid tribute to teachers: "Our schools are places of expertise, filled with incredible people who yearn for the best for all children."
She continued: "Skills acquired by teachers and children and a new technical proficiency means that we can step back and ask ourselves, what is next for an education which prepares children for the rest of the 21st Century?"
Mrs Raffray concluded: "Social, interpersonal and emotional needs must be at the heart of a curriculum which prepares students to live alongside robots.
"Education must be about digital, technological and financial literacy as well as sustainability.
"It is time that our examination systems recognised those elements."
How the RADIO toolkit for sensitive conversations can help to transform the world. Equipping and empowering students to give voice to complex topics.
4th February 2022 — We have been involved in the Faith and Belief Forum’s school linking programme since November 2010. We are currently linked with the Jewish Community Secondary School in Chipping Barnet. Previously we were also linked with Unity Girls School, a Muslim school in Hendon before they relocated. As a Catholic school we are delighted to have such a long standing relationship with Muslim and Jewish schools. One of the tangible benefits of this collaboration is the toolkit which the Faith and Belief Forum developed to enable students to conduct sensitive conversations. Religion is sadly a topic which can easily become a taboo and avoided, or an explosive minefield of risk. Many adults worry about saying the wrong thing about this or other potentially taboo topics. RADIO is an empowering tool which is helping students give voice to the most complex of topics. We say at St Augustine’s Priory that we want our students to transform the world. Becoming people who can embark on difficult conversations is something our students are immensely proud of. We are equipping them in a unique way. Our school motto is Veritas meaning truth. We use the RADIO toolkit to allow what we call `Veritas conversations’ to take place.
R – Respect
We are a community where we all respect each other. This is manifested in courtesy, holding doors open, saying thank you at the end of a lesson, greeting everyone and never being too cool to avoid someone’s gaze. It is lived in the way we expect everyone in our community to learn names, to try our best to pronounce names properly and if we make a mistake or are not sure how to pronounce a name to apologise and say we will try again. Senior staff greet the school community at the gate each morning and bid them farewell at the end of the day. We wish each other a lovely day. In Chapel we hold a beautiful quality of silence, respecting each other’s faith tradition and right to peace and we genuflect or otherwise show respect because this is sacred space, it is holy ground. We smile and we mean it. We take care. We volunteer to help. We do not stand on ceremony. Our kitchen staff are as worthy of respect as a governor. We ask Sixth Formers and staff not to jump the queue at lunch. We could go on!
A - Active Listening
Active listening is an art. It means inviting someone to speak with us so that we hear them. It means not interrupting, or trying to show how much we know, or even to presume we have understood before listening. We listen actively when we keep eye contact and judge when to look away to allow someone time to say something which might be difficult. When we give encouragement, smile, nod and (at the right time), reflect what we have heard, we are using the techniques of active listening.
The biggest challenge of active listening and the reason it is so powerful, is that it asks us not to be defensive. If we need to hear something we would rather not hear, we might need to just wait until the other person has finished. Active listening teaches us the great gift of also accepting silence, of waiting for the other person to find the words. Active listening allows growth and understanding and reconciliation.
D – Dialogue NOT debate
Dialogue is quite different to debate. When we debate we seek to persuade, to argue our point, we want to bring someone over to our point of view. We arrive at a debate certain that we are right. Dialogue is something else entirely. When we enter a dialogue we listen actively; we seek to understand and we earnestly try to learn. We bring open, generous hearts. Those who engage in dialogue know that their conversation might not cover everything in one sitting and might need further exploration. Entering dialogue requires some humility on both sides because we might learn something which makes us think differently. When it is based in respect there is an equality which also enables surprising shifts in relationships. It helps us all flourish and grow.
I – where am I in this?
I do not speak for all Catholic, white women. When I enter a conversation which is rich in complexity or where the truth might be hard to discern, I need to remember that I do not speak from the vantage point of owning the truth. When we talk about religion, or race, or culture or faith, maintaining that sense of self-awareness is helpful because it helps us avoid huge generalisations, or dangerous assumptions. It means that we keep opening to learning about the heritage of others and the way in which their experience differs or resonates with us. It means that I stay humble – I do not know everything.
O – oops
RADIO as a toolkit works as an integrated approach. It allows conversations about highly contested areas like ethics, science and belief, the unpacking of painful encounters or micro aggressions to be opened and healed. We know that micro-aggressions are rarely discussed in the moment – they settle and need to be discussed later. Oops as a vital part of RADIO reveals the importance of saying sorry without qualification. If we listen actively and we need to apologise then we do so in a way which helps. It must not add fuel to the pain. We teach people in our community to say “I’m sorry I said that. I have learned how much it hurt you.” We do not say “I’m sorry if I hurt you but...”
O – ouch
Being able to say, “I am hurt when you say that” or “I’d rather we didn’t talk like that” whether in the moment or after it, helps us all to tell the truth about how we feel without accusing. It helps with reconciliation because it is not about “you” statements. In the playground it has powerful effects because if a child intentionally or unintentionally hurts another there is an accepted vocabulary which helps us call out anything we do not think is right. It means that we build a culture where it is ok to for someone to say they do not want to be upset or to witness something distressing. In more nuanced work, it means that if a racist statement is made, all the community expects someone to say “ouch.” We know that micro-aggressions are hard to deal with in the moment but we hope that if they do happen, they will be dealt with, if not immediately, then soon after. This matters in the playground, in the staffroom, in a meeting with parents – anywhere where either the stakes are high or unexamined attitudes or unconscious bias are at work.
In some ways the last two words provide so much of the strength of RADIO. The beauty of the informal, almost childlike words oops and ouch is that anyone can use them: from a 3 year old to a 93 year old. The words and their simplicity put us closer to our feelings. From there we can employ the rest of the toolkit, weaving the elements together, building a culture which like a stick of rock has care for others and an ambition for human flourishing at its core.
At St Augustine's Priory we have embedded the toolkit into all our policies, into our curriculum and it frames our agendas and our meetings. It is important that every single member of our community uses it.
At St Augustine’s Priory, ‘The quality of the pupils’ academic and other achievements is excellent’, independent school inspectors find. The inspection of the Ealing Catholic independent school for girls was undertaken by the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI) in November 2021 and the report received by the school this week. Some of the other key findings of the inspection were that:
10th December 2021 — At St Augustine’s Priory, ‘The quality of the pupils’ academic and other achievements is excellent’, independent school inspectors find. The inspection of the Ealing Catholic independent school for girls was undertaken by the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI) in November 2021 and the report received by the school this week. Some of the other key findings of the inspection were that:
· ‘Pupils demonstrate outstanding attitudes towards their learning and their knowledge, understanding and skills are highly developed.
· Pupils throughout the school are extremely articulate; they debate with confidence and work collaboratively inside the classroom and beyond.
· Pupils are extremely reflective, developing higher-order skills including the ability to analyse, hypothesise and synthesise.
· Pupils achieve a high level of success in a wide range of sporting, academic and creative activities.’
The ISI inspection also found that, ‘The quality of the pupils’ personal development is excellent’. The report went on to say that:
· ‘Pupils demonstrate an exceptionally good understanding of respect and tolerance for other cultures and those of different faiths and beliefs.
· Pupils develop strong leadership skills and made an excellent contribution to the school and local community.
· The pupils’ excellent moral and social development are reflected in a community which is built on kindness and mutual respect.
· Pupils have excellent levels of self-esteem and self-confidence which enable them to take the school’s core values into the wider world.’
Headteacher, Mrs Sarah Raffray, commented, ‘The experience was hugely affirming. That we achieved this in the middle of a pandemic is testament to the strength of expertise and the consistent excellence to which we are committed. Our staff, from teachers to TAs, to admin and estates, all buy in to what the inspectors recognised as a culture and ethos like a stick of rock - running all the way through our community.’
To read the Focused Compliance and Educational Quality Inspection Report of St Augustine’s Priory, please go to https://www.sapriory.com/welcome/inspection-reports/
The Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI) is the body approved by the Department for Education for the purpose of inspecting schools belonging to Independent Schools Council (ISC) Associations and reporting on compliance with independent school regulations. ISI inspections are also carried out under arrangements of the ISC Associations for the maintenance and improvement of the quality of their membership.
Creating Space for Headteachers surviving a pandemic
Sarah Raffray, Headteacher of St Augustine’s Priory, Catholic independent day school for girls in Ealing, West London, examines the pandemic and the necessity for creating space for schools and their leaders.
10th November 2021 — The pandemic blurred all boundaries. Some of this was good. To start with we thought it was a great equaliser – anyone could catch COVID. But it wasn’t democratic – some people had a party, will speak freely of enjoying it – without a commute, children at home, salaries coming in. Others were cooped up in flats, redundant, filing their way to the foodbank. For those in work in key worker roles, the blurring between professional and private was complete. For those in education especially so.
In March 2020 when every day we asked, “will we lockdown today?”, as Head I held almost daily briefings with staff, I wrote frequently to parents and governors. Since the February, we had held our own daily Cobra meetings. By day we were trouble-shooters, forecasters. We listened to parents in industries where they were already using platforms for connection. Rapid appointments of staff were made as the usual tragedy of chronic illness hit us alongside the fear of someone catching Covid. One such day we appointed an Acting Head of Department and a newly created role Head of Technology for Learning – I told both of their roles as they stood in what felt like my revolving office door. No time for slow discussion.
School leaders are used to responding and planning: indeed, we regularly rehearse and execute critical incidents. Crisis communication is something we are drilled for. In those adrenalin-filled days we wondered how many people would die. We talked about it because we had to face every taboo. By night we slept like people in those stories of medieval times when the pestilence was evident in villages, with uneasy dreams and feeling like soothsayers woke too early with fresh thoughts of what needed doing. With no notice, no advance planning, we planned to move everything we could of a 3-18 year olds school online.
The nation ran out of toilet rolls. On the last day of school we spoke to all the students in their classes. We had stopped assemblies, fixtures, large gatherings. Pupils left with whatever equipment or plans they had been able to muster. We said farewell to parents we normally saw on a daily basis. Many were already feeling the pinch at work. Others we didn’t see again for months. Teaching staff were working out what tools of their trade they needed. As they left, they passed my office, wheeling white boards, office chairs, sundry other items in a macabre comedy, which was completed when we gave them a loo roll as they left. It was funny at the time. We still had no idea what we were really facing.
The Easter holidays were too brightly sunny, a backdrop of sirens wailing and endless DfE documents which we sifted for must, should or might. We became experts in arcane aspects of risk assessments and public health.
We switched to online learning. On a daily basis we adjusted – some year groups had more than others of live teaching. Some had too little, some too much. We created new timetables, a Games afternoon for rest from screens. Even then we knew we needed some respite. Somehow that time to stop never came because there was always something new to decide, to manage, to hear, arbitrate, mend, heal, redress, address.
We put sheets up as backgrounds in bedrooms or found white walls for our online existence. But the qualms as we switched on each day, selected the right browser or platform were not cowardly jitters. They were a reality of inviting our students, parents and governors into our homes in a way previously unimagined. Even in boarding schools, where communities live together all the time, essential boundaries are maintained. Now we reached through the screens to families telling us of illness, death, of ICU phone calls with kindly nurses they couldn’t hear through masks. WhatsApp Groups took on a new life – sometimes it was the equivalent of a casserole kindly meant, sometimes it was less kind. Parents had new insights into how teachers teach and how their children learn. Some of the wider societal commentary was well meant. Some less so.
As Heads we leapt from one platform to another, accountable in a new way to society at large as Black Lives Matters and then Everyone’s Invited swept the nation with righteous anger. As Headteachers we are figureheads – and everyone sees in us a different figure. And so we became Headteacher, supply teacher, key worker provider, mother, father, counsellor, arbiter, judge, sifter of clear lines through DfE memos which came through like Harry Potter letters piercing every means of communication. Like those portraits of Hogwarts’ Headteachers in a time of crisis, we moved in and out of Zoom calls, and science fiction became reality.
Now we are back in schools and we need to keep looking into space and creating a future which is defined by human connection, creativity and ethical leadership. We need to create a space for listening and thinking and to do so in a rather less helter-skelter manner. Heads need to hear what students and children are saying with fresh ears, rejoicing that we live in a time when we ask children to speak, and worry when they don’t. The haunting question of the NSPCC helps us if we allow it, ‘What stops children talking to adults? What stops adults listening?’
It would be good for us to have time to become prophets again. Prophets in the Old Testament were not fortune tellers. They read the signs of the times. Our curriculum needs urgent consideration as does our exam system – how we look after teachers, how we address the crucial matters of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion in a meaningful way, all of these need time and vision.
As Headteachers we need time and space to reflect on what we did, to allow ourselves to pause and be glad that we had a chance to make a difference and also to recognise that, as figureheads, we are not responsible for everything, even though it might feel that way. Burnout is close for many or has been just about headed off because of inspirational charities like Head Space - https://www.myheadspace.org.uk/ or Education Support https://www.educationsupport.org.uk/ whose offer of supervision I took up in the Summer. Just in time, as it turned out, as I had all the symptoms of burnout. It has made me careful and even more grateful for the amazing people I work with. Headteachers have the desire to constantly seek improvements, it is in their DNA, but we also urgently need a prevailing culture which affirms all we have done and will do with open hearts for the sake of the children and the adults in our communities. We must look after people, change the narrative to one of kindness and respect. We need to tell the stories of what we have done and, like those medieval people, be glad when the fever has passed.
The GCSE results achieved by the pupils at St Augustine’s Priory, Ealing Catholic independent school for girls, demonstrate how hard work and perseverance pays off.
12th August 2021 — The GCSE results achieved by the pupils at St Augustine’s Priory, Ealing Catholic independent school for girls, demonstrate how hard work and perseverance pays off. Girls have worked alongside teachers in this ‘new normal’ year and have shown how, even with lockdowns, great GCSE results were accomplished.
Despite all the interruptions and uncertainties of the past year the Year 11 students have shown focus and commitment in their studies and rose to the challenges that this year threw at them with great courage.
This set of results shows that they are ready for anything the future might throw at them!
St Augustine’s Priory conducted uninterrupted teaching through on-site classes and, during lockdowns, delivered an excellent remote teaching and learning programme. Education continued uninterrupted throughout the year so that girls could achieve their maximum potential.
The school is delighted with this year’s GCSE results and are proud of the achievements of all of its students.
Mrs Raffray, Headteacher of St Augustine’s Priory, commented, ‘We are as delighted with those whose grades range across the spectrum as we are with those who nailed the top grades across the board. I hope they and their parents enjoy this day, celebrating and noting all that they have done and are.’
Excellent A Level results achieved by pupils at St Augustine’s Priory are testament to the hard work and positive attitudes of both pupils and teachers in this year of 'new normality'.
10th August 2021 — St Augustine’s Priory, Ealing Catholic independent school for girls, is delighted to announce that their pupils have achieved triumphant results in their A Levels. After a gruelling year of lockdowns, the A Level results are a well-deserved tribute to the hard work and positive attitudes of both pupils and teachers.
These results recognise all that the school has achieved in the past year. With uninterrupted teaching through on-site classes running in collaboration with an excellent remote teaching and learning programme during lockdowns, no time was wasted and no opportunity let slip in order that the girls could achieve their potential in their A Levels.
Despite yet another year of no examinations, the grades achieved by the A Level students at St Augustine’s Priory are testament to the outstanding educational opportunities available at this school even during the pandemic:
· 100% of all A Level grades are A* - C with
· 28% of pupils achieving only A* grades and
· 56% of pupils achieving only A* or A grades.
· 85% of A Level grades are A* or A and
· 98% of all results are A*-B
Students have received exceptional offers from an impressive range of courses and universities nationwide, which include Mathematics at Bristol University, Politics and International Studies at Warwick University, Dental Surgery at Plymouth University, Biomedical Sciences at Exeter University, Russian Studies and Social Policy/Sociology and Politics at Edinburgh University, Chemical Engineering at University College London and Classical Studies at King’s College London.
All the girls have impressed us with the quality of their research into the courses and providers, also securing places with top grades at leading institutions with a specialism for their course of study, for example, Mathematics and Accounting and Financial Management at Loughborough University.
In addition, the students have had great success applying to non-UK universities with places achieved at a range of U.S. universities with impressive offers of scholarships from the University of Tampa and SMU in Dallas. The world is their oyster!
Mrs Raffray, Headteacher of St Augustine’s Priory, commented, ‘We are all delighted by these A Level results. The students worked with zest and energy, supported by outstanding teachers who mustered every reserve of energy in the middle of a very bleak winter to ensure that this exam series delivered the right results for each candidate. Congratulations to all our girls on their excellent results’. St Augustine’s Priory can, yet again, celebrate the achievement of its pupils as they look forward to the next stage in their educational careers.