Just as I was enjoying the sunshine (and hopefully you were too) the last few days of a restful and restorative Easter Holiday, the press was full of Mr Gove’s latest protestations about the length of school holidays and why they should be shortened.
It’s a theme that appears in the press with a degree of regularity and it’s easy to see why. School holidays are long, and most parents work, so how do we balance the need for parents to work with who looks after the children?
I have a great deal of sympathy with this view. When I was growing up, I came from a very traditional family where my mother didn’t go out to work, and there never seemed to be the same issues about child care in the school holidays. Most of my friends were in the same situation – this was the 1970’s after all!
Today, society is different. Increasingly both parents work and therefore the issue of child care in school holidays is a major concern for such parents. I am always amazed by the ingenuity of parents who manage the long school holidays with a rota of time off work, family and relatives drafted in and coming to mutual child care arrangements with friends. There are an increasing amount of holiday clubs available to help parents, with all year round nuresery care and activity sessions from Mad Science to sports in school holidays to provide worthwhile fun activities, as well as quality care.
Whilst having sympathy for parents struggling to find holiday care for their children, I disagree with Mr Gove’s arguments for shorter school holidays and longer school days for pupils.
What parents need is good child care for their children during the school holidays rather than more school. What children need is a break from their studies, a chance to play with family and friends, a chance to recharge batteries and assimilate their learning, a chance to take up new hobbies and meet new people and, dare I say it, a chance to be bored and have to make their own fun to fill an unstructured day. In other words, we need to give our children the opportunity to be children.
Mr Gove is also keen to make comparisons with schools in The Tiger Economies South East Asia, with long days and lots of homework. Having visited schools in China and Vietnam, the work ethic of the pupils is impressive, but the schooling is not something I would wish to replicate here. Very large classes of children sitting in serried rows, learning by rote, demonstrating excellent computational skills but limited creativity, is not the education system we should want for our children. Why is it, that British International Independent Schools are in such demand overseas? Why do so many families living overseas seek to send their children to British Independent Schools? It is precisely the quality of education offered, broad and balanced curriculum, creativity and thinking skills that is valued so highly the world over, but not so by Mr Gove.
Would longer school days and shorter holidays improve results? The evidence for this is far from clear. Anecdotally, children at Independent Schools as a whole achieve better exam results and have longer holidays than state school pupils.
Having seen how hard our pupils (and teachers) work, I feel the holidays are a necessary balance between the long days and demanding curriculum that our children already experience at school.
A good school does much more than educate its pupils in the three R’s. At The Elms and Trent we often speak about educating ‘the whole child” and I believe we do this very well indeed.
Just taking the Lent Term, our children have had numerous opportunities to play sport, star in plays, go on visits and residentials, dress up, ride ponies, make masks and ascend the Eiffel Tower! Our children are very lucky indeed to come here, and very fortunate to have parents who place such a high value on their children’s education, valuing not only their children’s academic success but education in the broadest sense.
The statistics released by the government this week showing a rise in the number of children who are “persistent absentees” from school are very alarming. In the academic year 2011/12, 41,224 penalty notices were issued to parents of children who did not regularly attend school. The fact that such a large number of children are disengaged from the education system and not attending school is shocking.
The reasons for non-attendance are many and varied. I know from parents’ comments and from seeing children at The Elms, how happy our children are here, how they skip into school each day, and how hard the staff work to provide a stimulating, enjoyable and varied curriculum. It’s hard to imagine children so disenfranchised from schooling that they do not attend. Whilst schools have a moral duty to ensure the education they provide is fit for purpose, parents also have a duty to instil in their children the value of a good education, as a life enhancing privilege not available to many of the world’s poorest children.
Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani schoolgirl shot in the head by extremists because of her support for girls’ education, returned to school this week and is now attending Edgbaston High School, Independent School for Girls. The example shown by this remarkable young lady, who clearly values the importance of education, should be food for thought for those thousands of teenagers in the DfE statistics who do not attend school regularly.
So in a week where the Chancellor’s red box didn’t give much cause for celebration, I thank all of our parents for the values you instil in your children and for the value you place on a good education.
Your comments, as always, are welcome.
Homework hits the headlines!
Homework or ‘prep’ is one of those perennial issues, where schools are often criticised by parents for giving too much homework, or not enough. In my experience as a Reporting Inspector for the Independent Schools Inspectorate, I find many schools face the dilemma of deciding ‘What is the right amount of homework to give?’
Homework hit the headlines recently in China. The boss of a Chinese company ordered nine employees to do his 12 year old daughter’s homework. Unfortunately for the father and daughter concerned, one of the employees reported the incident to the girl’s school and the whistle was blown! This incident raises several questions. There is the moral issue about cheating, the question about the amount of homework being given to a 12 year old if it takes nine employees to complete, and a sense of jealously as to why my dad didn’t give me the same help with my homework.
At the other end of the spectrum, Franoçis Hollande, the French President, has declared an end to all homework given in primary schools; “An education programme is, by definition, a societal programme. Work should be done at school rather than home”. This move in France follows the success of Denmark, which after introducing homework free schools, reported a rise in overall grades.
So what is the answer? Well, certainly at the junior school level, there are some learning advantages to certain types of homework. Learning and practising common spelling words, reading, learning number bonds or times-tables can certainly assist children with their classroom work. Practising a musical instrument also leads to improved performance. But beyond this, for younger children, there is very little evidence that hours of homework each night are helpful, productive or add anything to a child’s learning.
Indeed, homework can be rather a challenge for parents as well as children! I don’t necessarily mean the level of difficulty, but the impact on family life and the quality of relationships between parents and children. After a hard day at work and school, a family meal and time together is far more life-enhancing than having to become the nagging parent forcing a tired and reluctant child to begin hours of homework.
At The Elms, we have a Homework Policy that we keep under constant review. In brief, we aim to hit the middle ground of balancing those beneficial aspects of homework (spellings, reading and times tables) with a ‘little and often’ philosophy for homework. I am very aware of how hard our children work at school during the day, how far some children travel to be here, and that many families and children have hobbies and interests outside school, which are as valuable as any homework we may set. Unless you feel differently?
Your comments, as always, are welcome.
The world can be a pretty gloomy place at times and the worries and stresses of being an adult are all too easily passed onto our children without us really knowing we are doing it.
Whilst children, especially as they get older, should be aware of the world around them, they should not be burdened by it. Getting the balance between motivating our children, encouraging them to have high expectations of themselves and not feeling anxious is an important balance we must achieve as parents, as a school and as a society. I appreciate the pleasure and the pressure Year 6 children may have experienced when been under taking scholarships exams recently. How we prepare children for success and disappointment and teach them resilience is a key life-long characteristic and one route to achieving happiness. Childhood should be a time of happiness and excitement, and mostly it is! It’s very hard to be anything but happy working in a school such as The Elms with young children. Children are naturally joyful and do bring so many smiles and so much sunshine into the everyday. This week 6RF did an excellent assembly all about love and St Valentine’s Day. The children’s comments and ideas about what love is were very moving and revealed that children can be tuned in to the really important things in life. Happiness is not necessarily brought about by external factors. Money, fame, power and beauty are not the panacea we may think they are.
Different things make us happy. According to the research by Professor Sonja Lyubomirsky (psychologist and happiness expert) we are looking for happiness in the wrong places. She explains “What makes us happier is under our own control; it involves how we think and how we behave in our daily lives. Are we comparing ourselves to others or are we grateful for what we have? Are we forgiving? Do we invest in our relationships or not?”
Some schools are attempting to teach children how to be happy. Wellington College has hit the headlines for introducing happiness lessons to all of its students. Another approach is to challenge our children to perform acts of kindness. In a study carried out in the USA with children aged nine to 11, where children were tasked with carrying our acts of kindness such as helping friends with homework or visiting elderly relatives, the children involved became happier. Their acts of kindness were appreciated, the children received thanks and praise and became more popular with their peers.
So enjoy this half-term break, encourage your children to be kind and help others, and know that happiness is about our outlook on the world.
In the wake of the Head of a leading public school calling for a new General Certificate of Character Education (GCSE), Mr Morrow asks ‘Should schools teach lessons in manners?’
Schools are subject to constant demands from politicians to address the ills of society at large:
Riots on the streets of Britain? Schools should teach more about social cohesion.
Obesity crisis? Schools should teach children how to cook for themselves and to reject junk food.
Not enough gold medallists in the Olympics? Schools should teach more sport and stop selling off playing fields.
Is it right to task schools with developing an ever larger curriculum? Or will these demands distract from the core business of school: teaching pupils to become numerate, literate and ready for work in the 21st Century?
Certainly, Dr Anthony Seldon, Master of Wellington College and the country’s most quotable Head Master has set out his vision for the General Certificate of Character Education (GCCE) to be introduced in all British secondary schools to give pupils a grounding in good manners, self-control, responsibility, punctuality, kindness and tidiness (source: Daily Telegraph).
On the surface, it seems a ridiculous notion. Surely children are taught manners by their parents, not to mention the other attributes mentioned as possible components to the GCCE? Well, apparently not! Or perhaps a more accurate answer would be that not all children are fortunate enough to grow up in households where parents teach their children manners, kindness and responsibility or tidiness.
Throughout my career, I have never worked in a school that doesn’t teach these characteristics. I would regard the components that Dr Seldon speaks about as the stuff of everyday school life; the un-written or ‘hidden’ curriculum that pervades the school culture and add to the ethos of a good school. So is the GCCE a headline catching gimmick or a real call for schools to adopt a different approach?
The key would appear to be for schools to know their pupils and their parents well. We can’t take it for granted that all children and indeed all parent share the same values as we do. Social ‘norms’, like language, evolve over time and we do well to help our children understand that their norms are not always the same as other adults in authority, university admissions tutors or indeed prospective employers. Parents who turn up to see the Head in his study wearing muddy boots, sit during a meeting wearing a baseball cap and feel at home to answer their mobile phone when it rings are not as rare as one might think!
Children receive mixed messages about the attributes that are celebrated by society. We live in a world where footballers, pop stars and celebrities in jungles, can gain fame and fortune through a public display of lack of manners, tidiness, kindness and responsibility. Societies where adults rarely greet each other, manners are an optional extra and the right of the individual supersedes the right of the majority.
All schools have a responsibility to prepare their pupils for the best possible start in life. Academic qualifications are only part of the story. The best schools already have a programme in place to educate children in the broadest possible sense, giving children a wealth of real learning experiences, for a successful future life. If schools are to do their pupils justice, they should instil in their pupils the social skills that will propel them into successful adulthood. If we are to serve all pupils from a variety of backgrounds, clearly schools will need to make decisions about the type of character education that their pupils need. To those schools serving pupils in the most disadvantaged areas, the role schools have to play in inspiring pupils to achieve is transformational. The key is to allow schools to adapt their curriculum offering to meet the needs of the pupils it serves. For successful schools already in tune with their pupils’ needs, teaching manners, responsibility and punctuality are the elements that pervade the ethos of the school; modelled by the teaching staff.
Thank you for reading this blog!
The reaction to Lord Adonis’ admonishment of independent schools for not sponsoring academies rumbles on.
Earlier this month the former Minister for Education commented that Trustees of private schools should look at their charitable values as a “matter of conscience and duty”.
Ever since the threat from the Charity Commission, challenged in the High Court by the independent sector last year, has sought to change the legal definition of what constitutes a charity, independent schools have been under the political microscope.
The Independent Schools Council was instrumental in defending the sector against the Charity Commission and established that, in the words of Matthew Burgess, General Secretary of the ISC, “The diversity of the sector simply means there can be no single moral compass pointing unwaveringly in the direction of the government’s academy programme.”
There are several and many significant reasons why independent schools should not feel a sense of duty to sponsor academies.
Primarily, independent schools are exactly that, independent from Government interference in terms of the curriculum and how they operate. This independence should be fiercely defended. It is what has enabled independent schools to meet the aspirational needs of pupils and parents for many generations.
Grammar schools have been and gone, academies may well do the same. If some independent schools with over-flowing coffers and the willingness to sponsor government funded academies wish to do so, that is their prerogative, but the independent sector as a whole should not feel obliged to follow.
The vast majority of independent schools demonstrate their ‘public benefit’ in a variety of ways. This can be as diverse as running master classes in particular subjects, sharing campus facilities with local organisations, fundraising for local and national charities, involvement with education projects overseas, holding community or field days supporting local charitable groups and children with special needs.
The Elms is involved in all of these activities and more. In addition, many schools offer various schemes to widen social access and diversity to a first class independent education.
But Lord Adonis seems to over-look two very important factors when criticising the apparent lack of appetite from the independent sector as a whole in not jumping into bed with the Government over sponsoring academies.
Firstly, Britain is in the grip of a financial crisis. Many independent schools, which range in diversity from those tiny proprietorial schools to Eton and Harrow, are simply not in a financial position to give away their income from fee paying parents and let the government off the hook in terms of adequately funding state education.
Many independent schools are struggling to hang on to pupils and support parents whose businesses or income has suffered as a result of the economic downturn.
Secondly, and crucial to any argument about why should independent schools enjoy some small benefits from the taxation system, is the notion that independent schools save the exchequer and the general tax payer an estimated £7billion per year.
Independent schools receive no money from the state and instead rely on parents paying fees from their taxed income. In effect, parents are paying twice in order to send their children to independent schools - once in fees and again through their taxes.
If all independent schools closed tomorrow and the pupils entered the state sector, the general rise in the basic level of taxation needed to fund the additional school places would place a huge burden on the public purse, making any savings made by the sector by keeping their charitable status seem totally irrelevant.
The real question, the political dynamite that all governments have shied away from facing up to, is why are parents willing to pay twice for the education of their children?
What is it independent schools do so well that parents make huge financial sacrifices for in order to send their children? When the government has developed a state education sector to mirror the success of the independent education sector, parents will make their choices accordingly and the arguments of charitable status will be defunct. We can then debate how affluent parents are skewing the housing market in the catchment areas of ‘good schools’.
Until that moment Lord Adonis and his supporters should focus on how to make all schools as good as independent schools and consign the politics of envy to their rightful place.
Every year, members IAPS (Independent Association of Preparatory Schools) gather to learn from each other, share information about the ups and downs of life in the prep-school world and generally take some time away from school to think strategically.
As I’m sure those of you who have ever attended a training course or conference appreciate, they are a mixed bag of the truly exceptional, and the mind-numbingly tedious! Sometimes it’s not always clear where the new learning lies and it can take a little while for the ideas to percolate through the grey matter and become something tangible.
Sifting through the conference programme, there was one gem, one nugget of gold that shone more brightly than all the others. Humphrey Walters, BT Global Challenge round the world yachtsman, motivational speaker and coach for developing high performance teams was an outstanding speaker. He spoke with passion, humour and common sense about the recipes for developing and sustaining high performance teams.
To summarise, he identified three key ingredients:
Firstly, that winning teams know their cause. This can be expressed both in terms of clear strategic intent, as in the school development plan, but also in the daily actions of others. Teachers knowing and understanding how concentrating on delivering excellent teaching and learning, caring for our pupils and leading on their area of the curriculum contributes to the success of the school as a whole.
The second ingredient was ‘pride in the badge’. Successful organisations are ones where people want to belong! I’m always humbled by the pride both pupils and staff take in being part of and belonging to The Elms. This is demonstrated in the pride with which pupils wear their uniform, compete in fixtures and the length of service staff give to the school. It’s a place where people want to be, and that’s got to be good news for everyone who works there.
The final ingredient for a successful team is about the behaviour of the team and how we look after each other. Consideration for others, good manners and compassion are all qualities which are in daily evidence at The Elms. I was delighted that Humphrey Walters found this to be an important factor in successful organisations. It means that looking after each other, caring and supporting pupils and staff is not only the right thing to do, but helps continue as a high performing organisation.
There are always areas for improvement. Nothing is so good that it cannot be better, and I take a huge amount of pride at The Elms that my role as school leader is not about having all the ideas, but more often about tempering the enthusiasm and energy from my team, to introduce new ideas gradually into our school. No idea is unworthy of consideration and to work in a culture where there are so many ideas is an excellent way to keep renewed and refreshed.
I return to The Elms with a renewed sense of pride in the achievements of our team, with some more ideas for our journey of continuous improvement and with a feeling that I’ve missed being at school. I wonder if anyone has missed me….?
So it’s back to school, end of the rainy season, and hello to an Indian Summer. As well as providing a feast for the eyes and soul, the London 2012 Olympics fuelled much debate about the divide between those athletes educated in the state versus independent sector.
So what is all the fuss about?
Well, the nub of the debate centres around the success of those athletes educated in the independent fee paying sector. More than a third of the British Medal Winners in the 2012 Olympics were from independent schools, which educate only 7% of the school population in the UK.
Team GB won 65 medals, 29 of them gold. The proportion of state-educated gold medal winners is broadly similar to previous Games. The proportion of privately educated Olympic winners (37%) is similar to that for MPs (35%), but less than leading journalists (54%) or judges (70%), according to the Sutton Trust.
How do we use such statistics? Do we congratulate the independent sector on their amazing success? Well, no! Only in Britain can we turn such a success story into a negative; rather than a celebration of our independent school sector. Cries of ‘unfair’ and ‘elitism’ can overshadow more searching questions and help us learn from this experience.
Why do I think the independent sector is able to provide a disproportionate number of medal winners? Is it simply a question of money?
It’s hard to argue that facilities, especially in some sports, make a difference. Independent schools have invested heavily over the years in sports facilities and have not been prone to the same pressures to sell off playing fields to raise funds. Some may have been tempted! But a culture of sport, love of sport and appreciation for sport in the curriculum and beyond would have prevented them from doing this, even though the independent school market is facing tough times in some regions.
At the prep /independent junior school level, most junior schools set annual fees that are not significantly different to the capitation given by Local Authorities to state primary schools. Our independence allows us to use our funding where we feel it benefits pupils most. Employing specialist teachers, rather than generalist primary teachers, is one way prep / independent junior schools are able to teach sport at a higher level than state primary schools (and I speak as the former Head of two state primary schools). It is this specialist knowledge, opportunities to play a range of sports and take part in regular competitive sport that plants a seed of enthusiasm and love of sport in children of a young age, which senior schools go on to develop and where we see our athletes flourish.
There is another reason why sport (amongst many other areas such as clubs, CCF, educational visits), both curricular and extra-curricular, flourishes in some schools and not others; the school culture. In the best schools, where staff feel valued and cared for by the school leadership and appreciated by parents, teachers give over and above any narrow ‘job description’. The culture of the School Master or School Mistress, the expectation that all staff help run extra-curricular activities, which not only provide rich learning opportunities, but cement relationships between staff and pupils. Teachers in the independent sector often have very favourable working conditions, smaller class sizes and generous lesson support / planning and preparation time, which enables them to give more of themselves than in the state sector. This willingness and expectation that staff give time so generously, enables sport, amongst other areas to blossom.
Congratulations to all our athletes, wherever they were educated. And thank you to the teachers up and down the land, in whichever sector, who give their time so generously to all pupils to help them follow their dreams.
Another school year is now at an end! Where does the time go?
Today we said farewell and good luck to our wonderful Year 6 children; most of whom will be continuing their journey on this campus over at Trent College.
We send them on their way with a fabulous legacy: belief in themselves and a love of learning. I look forward to seeing them grow and develop over the coming years and who knows what the future will bring? One day, they may even return as a teacher at The Elms, like Mr Jolly, our new Year 5 teacher, who many years ago attended The Elms in Year 6 as one of our earliest pupils!
I was delighted with the enthusiastic support received at Speech Day. Thank you for your warm words and appreciation for what was an excellent end of year celebration. To re-live the experience, follow the link to my blog by clicking HERE.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for your continued support throughout this year and to wish you and your family a fabulous restful and rejuvenating summer holiday. May the sun shine on us all!
In a year in which we celebrate the 2012 London Olympic and Para-Olympic games, I want to turn my theme today to the core values that lie at the heart of these events: Friendship, Respect, Excellence, Courage, Determination, Inspiration and Equality.
Relationships are at the heart of any successful school. Visitors and prospective parents are always taken aback by the friendly atmosphere that pervades the school when they look round, or their child visits for an assessment day. The quality of relationships that exist are not accidental, we work at our relationships. Throughout the school year, we ensure that our children have many opportunities to make and sustain their friendships.
We face the challenge of educating children to know what true friendship is and what it is not. To know that a handful of true friends are worth more than a hundred on-line ‘virtual’ friends.
Respect is not a given, it is earned and then reciprocated. At The Elms, we model respect to our pupils by the way we treat them on a daily basis, by the energy we bring to the school and by the high standards we expect from all our pupils.
Our pupils show exemplary behavior and manners, and we should never underestimate this ‘unfashionable’ quality in the ME, MY and I world in which we live.
At The Elms, we are committed to maintaining the excellent teaching and learning that the Independent Schools Inspectorate judged us as having. We continue to develop our curriculum, our assessments, our provision for very able pupils and our support for those children who need learning support. This year we introduced specialist teaching in art, design technology and ICT to our Year 5 and Year 6 pupils. This means that our oldest pupils now receive specialist teaching in 9 areas of the curriculum, including music, modern foreign languages, sport and games, dance and drama and science.
There are many examples of courage I could share with you from The Elms. Courage shown by our pupils who have overcome personal loss or cope with disability as part of everyday life. Courage shown by staff, who have overcome serious illness, surgery and pain and returned to their jobs at The Elms as soon as they can so not to let their anyone down.
Courage shown by our governors to support new ventures like our new Nursery for under 3’s which is already a huge success.
At The Elms, we are always determined to do the right thing for our children and our school and not just follow the easy path. We are determined our children follow our behavior code and our dress code,. We are determined to be honest and constructive in our reports. We are determined that our classes are well-balanced to maximize learning, where children learn to get along, rather than classes of just friendship groups. We are determined to ensure our curriculum remains broad, balanced and relevant to the children we teach.
It’s hard not to feel inspired working in an environment as privileged as The Elms and Trent College.
Inspiration is everywhere, for children and adults alike. We find inspiration on the stage, we find inspiration on the rugby pitch when a remarkable try is scored, in a poetry reading when the hairs on your neck stand on end and in the last note of a solo performance in the Spring Strings concert. And here at The Elms, we are fortunate enough to be part of a larger Trent Community. The inspiration doesn’t stop at Year 6! One of the joys of being part of a 0 to 18 school is that we can look in awe across at our Senior School, and be inspired to be our best selves as we grow older.
Equality if the final Olympic Value to explore. We are not all the same, it would be a rather dull world if we were. Having true equality means being treated differently, according to our gifts and needs, so that we all have the chance to prosper and flourish. We do this at The Elms through rigorous assessment in learning, matching challenge to the needs of the pupil. We provide equality through a wealth of opportunities, both curricular and extra-curricular, were every child can find something they enjoy and are good at.
If we are able to live these Olympic values, we will all be gold medalists!