Building Relationships, Inspiring Success

headteacher's blog

May 2019

Welcome to my first blog of the summer term. This week feels like the first week of Summer - warm, sunny days!

Just before the Easter Holidays it was fantastic to celebrate the success of many of our young people from the last academic year and the early part of this year at our formal Prize Evening which has found a new home at Easter time instead of Christmas. We were delighted to have our former student Isabelle Maxwell give an address about her time at Durham University and to reflect on the excellent experiences she had at Duchess’s. I was so proud, as I am sure many of you were, of the achievements and dedication that our young people bring to their academic studies.

Preparing for Prize Day 2019…..

Speaking of academic studies, our Year 11s and 13s are beginning the challenge of their exams with some Year 11s facing over 35 hours of exams over the coming weeks. We wish them all the very best. Please keep us informed if you have any concerns re levels of stress and anxiety. For Year 11s after half term, if you feel they would be better off in school, rather than on Study Leave, then let us know. I’m sure we can find rooms for them to revise.

We continue to see real development and growth amongst the vast majority of our young people. There is evidence of increasingly positive and caring relationships between our students, and between our students and adults. But the true marker of a really good school is the relationship the school has with its parents and friends. Our work must involve the building of trust amongst all of our parents. This comes in a number of different ways including surveying your views, face to face discussions both formally and informally, and supplying real depth of detail about all areas of school life (both positive and not so positive).

This work continues as I write with surveys of our Year 7 Parents, invitations to a ‘Team Duchess’ meeting (22/5) and gaining your thoughts on mobile phones and uniforms. We are also in the middle of a complete overhaul of our website. There will be more opportunities before we break for the summer so that we are fully informed of your thoughts moving into the next academic year.

You will know that I often comment on the need for our school to be ‘all things to all people’ and how this can be difficult on occasions. Just so you appreciate some of the data that sits behind why I emphasise this I thought I would share the detail below. In our student body:

17% are registered as having some form of Special Needs

17% are registered as taking Free School Meals either now or in the last six years

6% are registered as children of Forces personnel

4% are either Looked After Children or have been Looked After Children in the past

67% of our students do not live in Alnwick

20% of our students have homes more than 10 miles away from our school

8% of our students have homes more than 15 miles away from our school

40% of our students, according to the Department of Education, are considered, on entry, to be above the national average in terms of attainment and progress

20% of our students are considered, on entry, to be below the national average in terms of attainment and progress

60% of our students stay on in our Sixth Form

40% of our students positively make the decision to go to college or apply for apprenticeships

40% of our students go on to university

We are the most ‘comprehensive’ secondary school in Northumberland, working hard to support everyone. To have one set of rules and policies for such a diverse school community is a real challenge….hence we need your help, trust and confidence at an individual level to make sure we get it right as often as we can!

The week beginning the 13th May is Mental Awareness Week – there will be much going on in school to highlight this important area of wellbeing. We have spent the last year promoting the work we are doing for the mental health of our young people (and their families). It is not an easy time to be growing up! We encourage you to get in touch if you have any concerns about how your child is presenting. We have many skilled colleagues who can help in a variety of ways.

As usual lots going on that we are very proud of with both our current students and our former students. Below is a Stunning Set of Six…….


World Cup England Joy for the 2 Lucys!

Lucy Staniforth and Lucy Bronze in England Action

It was with great delight and pride that we learnt that former students Lucy Staniforth and Lucy Bronze were called up for this summer’s Women’s Football World Cup England squad which will be played in France between the 7th June and the 7th July. England have been placed in Group D alongside Scotland, Japan and Argentina. England begin with a match against Scotland on Sunday 9th June!

Good luck and here is hoping England can go one better than the men last summer!

VEX Robotics: Looking to the Future

Photo from the National VEX Robotics Final in March

Following on from a valiant effort at the National Finals in March in Telford, Team DCHS Vex Robotics have again triumphed in the closing event of the north east season securing the teamwork challenge award (scoring the highest points average in alliances with other schools) and the robot skills competition (programming and driving individually). Facing stiff competition from Park View School (Chester Le Street) and Woodlea School (Houghton Le Spring) the team battled hard to win the event overall. Competition for next year will begin in November so we will be looking to recruit the next generation of year 7 robot designers, engineers and programmers. The team are Kathryn Ball, Ben Allan, Joe Bottomer, Louis Mascall, Will Thompson. Thanks to Tolly Rudge for mentoring, and to Mr Roberts (bus driver) and Mr Adams (ITT in Computer Science) for helping out with the programming strategy.

Onwards to next year and hopefully even more success!

French Exchange

French Exchange Students Enjoying their trip!

Ten students from the Duchess’s High School flew to Paris at the start of the Easter holidays, bound for Lagny sur Marne, Alnwick’s twin town, situated 20 miles east of Paris, where they spent a week staying with a French family. They were accompanied by French teacher, Christine Brown, and Darren Drummond from the Maths Department.

During their stay, they spent 2 days in school with their French exchange partner and the weekend with their host family. This year’s programme of activities included a day sightseeing in Paris and the mediaeval town of Provins - a UNESCO World Heritage site. Here, students learnt about life in the Middle-Ages and saw an amazing display of Birds of Prey. Each year, students are given a guided tour of Lagny and attend a welcome reception hosted by the Mayor of Lagny at the town hall.

Staff in the MFL department believe that an exchange offers students the ideal opportunity to develop their language skills, develop first-hand knowledge and understanding of French culture and make life-long friends. Christine Brown said that she was very proud of the students who were excellent ambassadors to the school. Once back in the classroom, students will realise how much their French has benefited from their exchange visit.

Poetry Success for staff and students

Dorit Greene reading her poetry at the Newcastle Poetry Festival

Dorit Greene (centre) & Mrs Newton (3rd from right) celebrate Poetry Success

The thriving extra curricular Creative Writing Club recently saw students enter their poems from the group into the Newcastle Poetry Festival poetry competition, which is a national competition, organised by Newcastle University. It was with great delight we found out that Izzy Hamer and Dorit Greene, both in Year 7 had won and were awarded £25 of book tokens. On Saturday 4th May, Dorit Greene in Year 7 was very brave and read her poem out to about 200 people at the Northern Stage as part of Newcastle Poetry Festival. She also read Izzy Hamer’s poem, as Izzy couldn’t attend that evening.

Judge Phoebe Power, who won this year’s Forward Prize, said that there were 170 entries from all 11-17 year olds across the country, and that the winning poems impressed her with their authenticity and craft. To have two DCHS students in the list of 12 winners is fantastic!

Mrs Newton of the English department, who also runs our after school Creative Writing Club, was also commended in the adult section, so Dorit and Mrs Newton got to share the stage! Further success for Mrs Newton has also followed because she has been nominated by our very own students to be a Foyle Young Poet Teacher Trailblazer due to her enthusiasm and excellent teaching of poetry. Teacher Trailblazers receive Poetry Society membership, opportunities to receive free poetry workshops at their school and paid commissions to write poetry resources for The Poetry Society website. We wait with baited breath to see whether Mrs Newton is successful and we will keep you posted!

Supporting Important Community Organisations

In late March we were delighted to assist Alnwick Hospice in hosting their 7th Annual Fashion Show in the school hall. The total raised on the evening was £2,830 – this could provide 12 nights of specialist ‘Hospice At Home’ care to people in our local communities – Alnwick Hospice are thrilled and we are delighted to work alongside the Hospice and our students to provide a venue for this important fundraiser. Rebecca Taylor of Alnwick Hospice said ‘I think we must have had over 50 students involved in this project. I think they really do add something special to the event and seem to enjoy being involved. I thought Project Catwalk worked really well. The staging, lighting, and sound seemed seamless - so thank you all as well for your input into that, alongside Andy & Jack. We received many positive comments from guests on leaving and I think it really highlights the many talents of the students to our wider community. Without doubt having the students involved attracts parents to the evening and allows us to highlight HospiceCare’.

Then In late April the school was the host venue for The Alnwick Playhouse who arranged to bring ‘Confessions of a Cockney Temple Dancer’ to town. As the playhouse undergoes its redevelopment this excellent show was staged in our school hall with approximately 100 members of the community attending the performance and for some it was the first time in our new building. Afterwards a very interesting post show talk took place with Shane Shambhu of Complicite and lecturer at East 15 Acting School in London. We were proud to support the Playhouse and to provide our space for this performance for the local community.

Recent production staged at Duchess

Students in Queen’s Scout Awards

Finally, at the end of April, Oscar Wilson, Ethan Allan and Isabella Neri - travelled to Windsor Castle to receive their Queen’s Scout Award - the highest award in Scouting. It was an amazing experience they paraded through Windsor to the ceremony in the Quadrangle of Windsor Castle, which was attended and inspected by Chief Scout Bear Grylls & The Duke of Kent. They then paraded down to St George’s Chapel where they were able to attend the National Scout Service to commemorate St George’s Day.

We’re extremely proud of them and their services to scouting and the community.

Parading at Windsor Castle