Opening letter of the New Year

Welcome to the new school year and a particularly warm welcome to those of you who are new to Ashford School (Bridge Nursery, Prep School, International Centre and Senior School).

We welcome 14 new teachers to the School across the Prep and Senior schools as well as many support staff. All of these individuals have been hand-picked because of the skills and experience they bring to the school and I anticipate they will have a significant impact on your child and how the School develops over the coming year and beyond. I know you will make them feel welcome as you come across them during the year.

At the start of this term there are just under 1000 children and young people in the School. The numbers in the Prep School have grown significantly; those in the Senior School have grown to a lesser extent. Ashford School has one of the largest, if not the largest, early years foundation stage settings in the country. It is an important and significant part of what we offer and I’m grateful to Sue Yeates and Fran Russell who oversee it with great success. Over the next five or so years we anticipate that the Prep and Senior schools will continue to grow on the back of our growing reputation and the growth of Ashford town. The essential core of the School will not change i.e. close and expert care for the individual as they progress from baby to young adult.

At this time of year we focus on public exam results. The exam and university outcomes for our students at the end of the 2014/15 year were good and unexceptional. In other words they were in line with recent years. Roughly 70 to 80% of Year 13 gained places at their first choice institution with just under two thirds going to Russell Group universities (some are still to be determined). The percentage of the highest grade (A*) has increased to nearly 20% while the A*-B range has decreased to 73%. Nonetheless those of our students who are in the top 25% of the national ability range have outperformed their peers at even the most selective grammar schools in Kent. Those of our students in the second quartile of the national ability range have also outperformed their peers in many if not all grammar schools in Kent. This is testament to the individual students and the teaching and support they received. It is one of the obvious benefits of Ashford School.

You will be pleased and unsurprised to hear that the financial position of the school remains sound. Thanks to the prudent management of the money side of the school we have achieved our financial targets for 2014/15. Maintaining our reputation with United Learning for effective and efficient oversight of our finances is critical to giving the national trustees the confidence to continue to invest in the School. The School is a charity so any surplus we generate is returned to the School. You can see the result of such prudence whenever you visit either Great Chart or East Hill.

Today we open the Ashford School International Centre (ASIC) which is designed to provide living and teaching accommodation for up to 22 children on a one-year GCSE course in preparation for joining our Sixth Form in 2016. If you are at Great Chart do take the time to look through the fence at the new playing fields and Astroturf. These facilities are for pupils across the Senior and Prep schools. The Astroturf will be in use by January 2016 at the latest with the grass pitches available for use in September 2016. These two significant projects show the direction of travel for Ashford School i.e. investment in our infrastructure to ensure we stand out from the crowd. We are developing plans for the next stage in the “makeover” of the East Hill campus which I hope to share with you in more detail in the New Year. Suffice to say the school is not standing still.

The start of the New Year is always a good time to implement change and to learn from past experience. There are a couple of practical issues I would ask you to consider and act upon. The first is the use of email. Please be reminded that email is a good mechanism for communicating information. It is not a good mechanism for communicating opinion or other matters where words and the manner in which they are written can have different interpretations. Email is not the place to express emotion and, in particular, negative emotions such as anger or frustration. In these circumstances you should seek a face to face meeting with the appropriate person or at the very least talk on the phone. If you are uncertain as to who this is then please phone Reception who will be able to help.

We aim to work with you in maximising the achievements of your child and developing them as young people. To do this successfully you need to trust in our expertise and allow us the time and space to do the job. Nonetheless, if you have a concern or a query please do raise it with the appropriate person in a suitable manner sooner rather than later. No concern is too little to raise. I am always happy to receive comments of any sort.

I hope the year starts well for you and continues along those same lines.