Year 6 Open Evening- a parent’s perspective

Yesterday evening I attended the Year 6 Open Evening at our local secondary school, Cottenham Village College (@CottenhamVC). My youngest son, Ben, is in Year 6 and Cottenham is our local secondary school. As an advisor, who was a teacher in a secondary school for many years, it can be hard to attend these evenings as you have your own agenda. It is hard not to bring a ‘critical eye’ to the proceedings. However, I tried hard to be ‘just a parent’!

My eldest son already goes to Cottenham, so we had a fair idea of what to expect. However, the following aspects of the evening struck a chord with me, as both a parent and an educator.

A coherent vision for a well rounded education
As a parent I want to know that my son is going to do well at the school. I want to know that he will be able to achieve his potential. It is not just about academic results, but I do actually want him to get a good set of GCSEs! This philosophy of balancing high academic standards, with a well rounded and balanced education was clearly articulated by the headteacher (@StuartLock). What a brilliant idea to have staff and pupils involved with the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme outside- the fairy lights were genius! What a testament to the school’s aim for each pupil to ‘be the best you can be’ by many subjects displaying work from a range of abilities. This to me showed that this school has high expectations for all at its heart.

Genuine and honest view of the school
Like all schools, Cottenham Village College is on a journey. Last year it moved from requires improvement to a good Ofsted rating. This school is one with aspirations for its pupils, but also for itself too. I like this! The staff, including the headteacher, were honest about where they were at, how they were changing things and seeking the very best education for all its pupils. However, they accepted that not everything was perfect. Thank goodness!! If a school says they are perfect they might be apathetic to change and development.

The pupil’s voice
During the main presentation we heard from current Year 7 pupils who had just started at the school. I’d expect this sort of contribution as a parent, but it didn’t stop there. When visiting different subjects, pupils talked openly and confidently about their experiences. They engaged in conversation with myself, as a parent, but also with my son. Teachers talked to my son (many asked how he had broken his arm to be fair, but it was a conversation starter…) about his likes and dislikes. They genuinely spoke to him, not just asking questions about which primary school he was currently attending, but asking about and engaging him with learning. So when I asked Ben today what he thought of the evening he said ‘It was an epic time. It was such a great experience. It also told me not to be scared when you start. I’m going to love it’.

Opening Eyes
The Opening Evening allowed my son to see the possibilities ahead of him. He was particularly taken with Design and Technology and science. The school managed to excite and enthuse, showing that everything and anything was possible. Ben’s eyes were opened to the depths and wonders of learning! It is a shame that we do this sort of thing only once a year… It was also fascinating to see my older son, enthusing about all the subjects as he took us on our own private tour! He said things like ‘you can’t miss music’… ‘you can’t miss languages’…. there is enthusiasm for learning in this school.

And finally….
Food…from jaffa cakes to make theological points in RE to crisp circles in maths…from ‘buying’ croissants in French to a crisp brand survey in computing… the college really should advise parents beforehand not to have dinner before they attend their opening evening! A bit gimmicky… maybe… but who cares (ok, some might…)! My boys loved it, although neither of them wanted to attempt to separate the different parts of the jaffa cake…I did have a go and failed. The Trinity remained intact for another day…

For more information about Cottenham Village College see



Chance Encounters

This blog first appeared on #maternityteacher (@maternityCPD).

It is a bit different than my usual blogs to be honest as it is not really about RE!!

I wrote this blog because I passionately believe that maternity/paternity leave can be an opportunity for career development and I want to support the #maternityteacher campaign. Let me explain why….

Very few people can probably claim that their career took off during maternity leave….but this is what happened to me…about ten years ago! So how did this happen? In short it was partly due to being in the right place at the right time…but also due to the incredible support of colleagues who saw the opportunities that maternity leave provided for flexible working from home.

Ten years ago I had a toddler running around, and had a nine month old baby. I had been an RE adviser to the London Borough of Newham for a number of years, but had decided to explore other avenues of work to fit better around my family and avoid a long commute to London each day as we’d moved to Cambridgeshire.

A chance encounter
During my maternity leave I started to run a toddler group; slightly out of my comfort zone as I am secondary trained! However, I required some resources to help me, and whilst in search of these bumped into an RE adviser! She suggested that whilst I was on maternity leave I trained to become a Section 48 (Statutory Inspection of Anglican Schools) inspector. She said I could choose when to undertake inspections and it could work around my children. I took her up on this suggestion and whilst on the training met another adviser who told me they needed a secondary RE specialist to work with schools in Norfolk! My new ‘freelance’ career began!

A networking opportunity
The RE community is strong and vibrant! There is probably some kind of network meeting taking place every week for teachers. There are similar networking opportunities for advisers too, and I decided to pop along to my local group. I was fortunate that my husband was working shifts, so had the children for the morning! It was here that I met Mary Myatt (@MaryMyatt) who at that time was an adviser in Suffolk. Mary saw the possibilities and opportunities! She supported me in my early days as a freelancer by opening doors for project work, and invited me to events to help me network with others. She also always understood the constraints.. there was never any pressure.

A chance to work flexibly
Lastly, a number of organisations contacted me during my maternity leave because they knew I would be based at home! I would have more time to write – apparently! So I wrote articles, I helped prepare a bid for funding, I wrote material for a website, I acted as a consultant for a media organisation… many of these opportunities came about because of the creative thinking of other advisers in my field. Other advisers who did not have time to ‘write’ because they were in schools, had the foresight to provide opportunities for me.

Opportunities for all
In my work as an adviser now there are a number of ways in which I try to support those on maternity/paternity leave, I think partly due to the way my own career has developed. One of my roles now is as Lead Consultant for the TeachRE Course ( This course is distance learning and has many routes and pathways through it. It is completely flexible. We have had teachers complete the course whilst on maternity leave. Want to know more?