Keith Morrow

Jul 01

OFSTED ARE COMING!

Independent Schools like Trent College and The Elms, are digesting the news from Michael Gove (Education Secretary), that they may be inspected by OFSTED in the future rather than by the Independent Schools’ Inspectorate (ISI).

Mr Gove promised to look into the school inspection system to ensure that Independent fee paying schools are inspected by OFSTED, which is currently the inspectorate for the maintained sector.

Many schools in the independent sector are concerned about the ‘consultation’ period being undertaken and the implications for schools in the independent sector. I too have major concerns about Mr Gove’s announcement, and at this point I must confess a vested interest; not only as the Headmaster of an Independent Junior School, but also as an Inspector for ISI, and former OFSTED inspector.

The Independent Schools’ Inspectorate is a non-for-profit organization, which inspects independent schools in England and across the world. The inspectors who work for ISI are very experienced serving or former Heads, many inspectors are drawn from OFSTED or have been former HMIs and all have had and receive constant training in new regulations and best practice. ISI is a truly independent organisation, but it inspects schools on behalf of the Department for Education, which legislates for the Independent Schools Standards Regulations. In other words, ISI inspects on behalf of Mr Gove already, but does so in an independent way. In addition, ISI is subject to constant monitoring and review by OFSTED, and each year receives a report from Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Education (Head of Ofsted) to comment on the quality of the inspection process and reports. These reports are overwhelmingly complimentary about ISI and comment on the high quality of the reports and the inspection process.

Independent schools feel that the inspection process works well, is rigorous and fair and offers advice and critique by highly regarded inspectors who know and understand the independent education system. Unlike OFSTED, independent schools have to pay for their own inspections via an annual subscription to ISI. Schools generally receive 5 day’s notice of inspections, mostly so they gather paperwork and carry out parent and pupils questionnaires, which are sent anonymously. ISI also carries out a number of no-notice inspections. Ask any Head of an independent school about ISI, and they will tell you it is no easy inspection!

Having previously worked as an OFSTED inspector, I have some major concerns about handing over the inspection of independent schools to a government body.

Firstly, one of the huge strengths of ISI is the size and makeup of the inspection team. Led by a Reporting Inspector, the team is made up of inspectors, including serving heads. This aspect of peer review is crucial, both to give credibility to the inspection process, and to keep the inspection process routed in current practice and informed of current trends and pressures in schools. Whilst there is a certain amount of ‘box ticking’ in terms of ensuring schools meet the regulations, particularly regarding child protection and safeguarding, the major focus of the inspection is not to study league tables and SATS (which many independent schools do not participate in) but to gain first hand evidence from talking to staff, pupils and observing a cross section of lessons.

OFSTED, by comparison, sends much smaller teams in to inspect schools, for shorter periods of time. The OFSTED inspectors are rarely serving Heads and many have never been Heads. OFSTED is overwhelmingly concerned with data, rather than observing lessons, and measure all schools by the same yardstick. Independent schools, by their very nature, are diverse in the way they organise learning and adapt the curriculum to suit the needs of pupils in the school.

My fear, is that by inspecting independent schools in the same way as maintained schools, we will lose a great deal of knowledge and experience from serving Heads on inspection teams, and end up with short, bland reports that do little to either inform parents about the strengths and weaknesses of a school, and do even less in helping that school improve.

The National Association of Headteachers (NAHT) and other teachers’ organisations have called for an end to the current inspection regime led by OFSTED and called for more serving Heads to work as OFSTED inspectors to ensure peer review is a key focus of the inspection culture. The state sector is concerned by both the quality of inspection teams, the focus of inspection teams and the lack of understanding some inspection teams have with school services.

My other fear is one of political interference. Independent schools in the UK are hugely successful and regarded as world leaders in quality education. One only has to look at the number of international students seeking to attend British schools, or indeed the expansion of British Schools overseas.

So why then, when the independent system is going so well, has weathered the economic downturn and is a world class British success is the education secretary seeking to mend something which isn’t broken?

Why then, would he seek to ask OFSTED to retrain and inspect independent schools, which they may not fully understand the culture, or worst still, be ideologically opposed to?

My fear is that in order to get a good OFSTED report, independent schools would be pressured into becoming more like maintained schools. Re-introduce SATS, narrow the curriculum to focus on maths and English almost exclusively at primary level, dumb down the teaching of non-core subjects, be forced to adopt the national curriculum rather than invent their own.

Why, when maintained schools and unions are calling for OFSTED to become more like ISI, is the Government proposing that ISI becomes more like OFSTED? Surely we should seek to raise the bar and not adopt the lowest common denominator?

Mr Gove’s assertion that OFSTED should inspect all schools, including schools in the independent sector, “without fear or favour” in order to send a strong message to parents is not so much Trojan Horse, as a coach and horses to ride rough shod over the independence of our most successful schools.

Keith Morrow

Mar 21

Why should we teach emotional resilience?

The Elms is a very happy and positive experience to work in, for staff, as well as for children. The staff work very hard to make each and every day enjoyable and interesting, but as all parents know, sometimes things happen that affect that positive outlook on life.

We hope, that for children at least, these set-backs are minor and do not negatively affect their outlook on life. Children are emotionally vulnerable, but it is important that as teachers and parents we do understand that moments of disappointment, upset and frustration can be used as positive learning experiences for children. Children will faces challenges in life as they move into adulthood and there is a great deal of concern that modern lives, including our children’s exposure to social media, places them under more stress and scrutiny than we had to endure during our childhood.

So how do we teach emotional resilience?

In a nut-shell, we allow children to experience ‘failure’ and ‘stress’ in a controlled environment.

Sport is a good vehicle through which children can experience success, and indeed failure. We give our children the opportunity to play and enjoy, to lose, to miss that goal, and to not be selected for the A team.

We give a child who has not done their homework the ‘opportunity’ to be told off by their class teacher at school and to be in ‘trouble’, rather than get stressed as a parent and make excuses on our child’s behalf.

We encourage our children to try out new experiences, like staying away from home for the first time on a residential visit and understand that the first night might be a worry for some children (and parents).

We give our children strategies for making new friends and for dealing with fall-outs, understanding that it takes two to fall out, and that not all children can be best friends.

Having a family pet can also be a good way of encouraging children to consider more than just their own needs, as well as giving children experience of caring for a sick animal and indeed, the opportunity to experience loss through the death of a much loved pet. 

And with social media, when children are ‘un-friended’, ‘ignored’ and not ‘liked’, we encourage them to use the ‘delete’ or the ‘off’ button and realise that the number of on-line ‘friends’ on Facebook or similar has very little to do with real life.

To teach our children to deal with life’s disappointments as well as life’s joys is all part of growing up into a well-balanced adult. And learning to like ourselves, and not just worry about what other people think of us, is equally important when developing children’s emotional resilience and mental well-being.

To quote from Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If”, we must teach out children to

“meet with Triumph and Disaster

And treat those two impostors just the same;”

Jan 31

To read or not to read?

Our children at The Elms love reading. We have a wonderful reading culture, a well-resourced library and popular reading schemes.  Our staff enthusiastically promote reading and we have a knowledgeable children’s librarian in Mrs Hyde, who can always recommend a good book or two!

You may have read, or listened to the interviews with Dr Andrew Davis this week. He is a research fellow at Durham University who criticised the forced learning of synthetic phonics for children who can already read when they start school as being “almost a form of abuse”.  In his publication, ‘To Read or Not to Read”, he argues that for children not yet able to read, an emphasis on synthetic phonics can give them the illusion that ‘proper’ reading is “decoding and blending”.

We strongly believe that a varied, balanced approach is best. Children are all unique and approach their learning in different ways, so an over emphasis on one single strategy would be ineffective and detrimental to a child’s development. Reading is a complex process involving a range of elements, skills and techniques, starting foremost, with the essential skill of language and communication. Due to its complexity and numerous elements, a rich variety of techniques and activities are absolutely essential. From picture books and puppets, to board games, e-books, reading comprehension, guided reading, role play, drama, mime, dance, flashcards, wordlists and word building using apparatus…..the possibilities and opportunities we provide at The Elms to nurture and encourage our ‘little bookworms’ are endless!

Our youngest children in the Foundation Stage build on the skills and experiences acquired from home. Within a busy, balanced curriculum, we strive to develop the children’s language and communication skills. Good communication skills open the door to access all areas of learning and help the children to develop effective relationships with their peers. The power of the spoken word is imperative and remains so throughout a child’s school career.

‘Reading’ starts with developing an awareness of the environment and an appreciation that signs, labels, pictures and photographs carry meaning. Children will begin to make sense of what they see based on their personal experiences and interactions with adults and older siblings. As children enjoy their picture and storybooks, they gradually become acquainted with the alphabet. This provides the early tool kit for decoding and reading strategies.

We utilise Jolly Phonics as our main scheme to introduce the children to sounds and letters. It is a particularly effective resource as it incorporates auditory, visual and kinaesthetic strategies, so that there is something for everyone. Not only does it support the acquisition of reading skills, it also forms the basis for early writing strategies.

As the children progress through Reception, word building strategies involving phonic sounds are introduced and modelled to the children. The use of synthetic phonics is vital in this process….how else can a child read cat without knowing the sounds as opposed to the letter names? The children are gradually shown alternative methods of making their sounds and digraphs as well as developing a sight vocabulary comprising of words that cannot be decoded and need to be learned.  This synthetic phonics and whole word approach to reading and writing are developed and continued throughout Key Stage One and into Key Stage Two. We have a wide variety of reading materials in our library and reading areas. To gain full access and enjoyment from these books, both strategies are essential.

Clearly, our approach to teaching reading at The Elms works! Recent analysis of our standardised reading scores shows that around 25% of our Year 6 children achieve a reading age (at 11) in excess of 14 years and around 10% of our Year 6 children reach a reading age beyond 17 years!

In addition, at The Elms, we pride ourselves on building in our children a love of books. We encourage an enthusiasm for the traditional quality texts but also the very latest reads. In addition we run competitions, schemes and events (such as visiting authors and our Reading Champions) throughout the school to promote and reward our children in that most important and fundamental element of learning, a love of reading!

‘The more you read, the more things you will know.  The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go’

From Dr Seuss  ’I Can Read With My Eyes Shut’

Our Foundation and Key Stage One Literacy Co-ordinator, Mrs Emma Large will be running a Phonics evening on Wednesday 5th March.

Nov 01

Should anybody be allowed to teach your children?

If you’ve been following the recent debates in the press, interviews on the television and arguments in the House of Commons, you’ll know there is something of a political storm brewing.

It may surprise parents to know, but independent schools are free to employ whomever they wish (subject to safeguarding checks) to the role of teacher (or Head Teacher for that matter) in their schools. This has always been the case in the independent sector. So for example, an excellent graduate with a degree in English could be appointed as an English teacher without ever studying how to teach.

In contrast, schools in the state sector, may only employ qualified teachers to teaching positions. In addition to having a degree, teachers must hold QTS (qualified teacher status), obtained through either a specialist degree in teaching with QTS, or through a number of post-graduate qualifications, some being school based qualifications, assessed externally.

Mr Gove (Secretary of State for Education) has opened up a can of worms by offering the same freedoms that independent schools have, to state funded schools, such as Free Schools and Academies.

The recently appointed Shadow Education Secretary Tristram Hunt is quoted as saying that under this Government, become a teacher is easier than flipping burgers thanks to the Government.

The argument goes something like this: independent schools are typically credited with providing pupils with an excellent education, so extending the freedoms they enjoy to some schools in the maintained sector could raise standards.

Richard Cairns, Head Master of Brighton College, has entered into the debate by pointing out that approximately a third of his teachers do not hold qualified teacher status.

So in a nutshell; do you need to be a qualified teacher to be a good teacher?

My answer to that questions would be a qualified ‘usually’!

It’s easy to be anecdotal and talk about inspirational teachers who were ‘unqualified’ and by contrast, awful teachers who were qualified teachers. This doesn’t really advance the argument.

I believe, especially when we are talking about the education of primary-aged children, that graduates being trained in how to teach, enhances their effectiveness as a teacher. Understanding how children learn, how their brains develop, how children assimilate new skills and how children acquire language, are all very important for teachers to know. The dark art of teaching is not just something that is just in the genes! Pedagogy, defined as both an art and the science of teaching.

Equally, effective classroom control, the ability to assess children’s learning and how to teach children in an interesting and stimulating way are key elements of teaching as well. However well-qualified a graduate is in a particular subject, does not necessarily mean this translates into them being an effective teacher.

As a general rule, the younger the child, the more a teacher needs to know and understand about pedagogy. At the other end of the ‘teaching’ spectrum, a university lecturer could be a rather dull unqualified teacher, but their subject knowledge in their chosen discipline is key. By this time, young adults can cope with experts who are unhindered by concerns of how their students learn.

So by extension of this argument, there could be a case for well-qualified and enthusiastic graduates sharing their subject knowledge with well-established, sophisticated learners in the sixth form.

I’m not saying that some graduates, without any formal training in teaching, can’t become good teachers. What I am saying is that good graduates, with a passion for enthusing others, could become excellent teachers with additional training and qualifications.

I believe Mr Gove is misguided in his belief that teachers teaching our children, whether in the independent or maintained sector, don’t need formal training or qualifications in teaching. We should strive to have the best-qualified teachers and graduates teaching our children, and not enter a race to the lowest common denominator. And what about those good ‘unqualified’ teachers in our schools? We should give them the opportunity to obtain QTS (qualified teacher status) by in-service training. They may even find this helpful and all our children would benefit as a result. The deregulation of teacher training is not a panacea to raising educational standards.

I look forward to the introduction of formal qualifications and training for Members of Parliament, especially for Secretaries of State. Just imagine, a qualified Head as Education Secretary, a soldier as Defence Secretary, a surgeon as Health Secretary…. where would it all end?

Keith Morrow

Head Master and qualified teacher

Oct 04

Being political…

It’s been quite a couple of weeks in terms of politics! The political party conference season has come to an end, as too have the IAPS and HMC national annual conferences for the Heads of the leading independent junior and senior schools.

Education, as ever, is never far from the lips of our politicians. Indeed, in my 13 years as a Head, I have never been short of advice on how to run a school!

Sir Michael Wilshaw, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Education, told Heads at the HMC conference this week that independent schools must help failing state schools by sponsoring them, setting up academies and helping them learn from the long experience of independent schools at running their own affairs.

I feel rather reluctant to take any lessons on the subject from Sir Michael. Independent schools have long been under attack from previous governments in the form of the big stick that is the Charity Commission, and have become an embarrassment to our current government in terms of their own schooling. Shhhh! Don’t mention Eton!

Having been a Head in both the maintained and the independent sector, what unites Heads and schools is considerably more than what divides us. A strong sense of moral purpose and a desire that every child, whether attending a state or independent school, receives a good education should be, and is the prime purpose of all school leaders. Equally, I am absolutely clear that whilst being as generous with my time and skills as possible, my prime concern is for The Elms. Ensuring the children here get the best possible education is my number one priority. Diverting money from parents, who are working incredibly hard to pay the fees for their own children, in addition to paying tax and contributing to the national education spend without benefiting from it, in itself raises moral questions.

Closer to home, I very much enjoyed listening to Alistair Campbell this week speaking at Trent about his life in politics. Whilst interesting, I could not share his views on education, and in particular his anti-independent education stance. I’m not sure how Mr Campbell could claim the moral high ground of sending his children to the local state schools, when he was actually consuming scarce educational funding, whilst at the same time ensuring that his post-code and house price guaranteed his children went to the best state school anyway.

Is being a millionaire, sending your children to the local state funded school and using your spare cash to buy luxury cars and second homes morally more acceptable than foregoing those things and spending disposable income on school fees? I think not!

Instead of bashing the independent sector, if only politicians could embrace it, we could move on and spend our time and effort on other things. It appears that whatever the hue of the political party, there has been an acceptance of the concept on nursery funding vouchers, given to parents to spend on the provider of their choice. This includes state run nursery schools, private businesses as well as nursery schools like our very own at The Elms. Surely then, isn’t it a natural extension of this scheme to give all parents an entitlement to a school voucher? Most independent schools, especially junior schools, charge similar fees per child to the per capita funding given to the state sector. Wouldn’t this revolutionise the education system in England in the same way it has nursery provision?

As the school population grows, and primary school places are expected to be over-subscribed by 20%, causing a crisis in state education, could education vouchers offer a sensible, lower cost solution? This could utilise the expertise, capacity and energy in the independent sector and make an independent education more affordable to more parents. It would be cheaper than building new schools.

Britain is renowned throughout the world for having an excellent  independent education system. One only has to look at the growth of British independent schools who are opening overseas schools and the growth in international students coming to the UK as evidence of this. The only people who don’t seem to appreciate or acknowledge this fact are some of our own politicians. How deep the politics of envy runs through the veins of British political life!

Keith Morrow

P.S. How much is a pint of milk by the way? Mine comes in litres.

Jun 03

Is your child getting enough sleep?

Have you got your Google glasses yet? If you’ve seen the press releases, then you’ll know that Google have developed a computer that is integrated into a pair of glasses that can be worn wherever we go to enable us to be ‘on-line’ every minute we are awake. Whilst the common use of such devices may be a little way off into the future, we are more connected than ever before, and children as well as adults are increasingly ‘wired up’ on the move with powerful phones, tablets and games consoles.

I have to confess to being part of this ‘connected’ revolution and from a work, social and educational point of view; there are many advantages of harnessing technology as a tool. But sometimes it can feel like this ability to send emails round the clock, check phone messages and respond to textgets in the way of life, rather than enhancing it.

The affect of constant electronic stimulation and the nature of online gaming are addictive, especially for children. The availability of such devices in children’s bedrooms is one factor highlighted, as a cause of sleep deprivation is a recent study. The international comparison, carried out by Boston College, found the United States to have the highest number of sleep-deprived students, with 73% of 9 and 10-year-olds and 80% of 13 and 14-year-olds identified by their teachers as being adversely affected. Other countries with the most sleep-deprived youngsters were New Zealand, Saudi Arabia, Australia, England, Ireland and France.

The research showed that children who had more sleep performed better at school and achieved higher results in Maths, English and Science tests. In particular, the light emitted from screens close to the face (as with mobile phones) was found to have a particular negative effect on sleep patterns.

So what can we do as parents to ensure our children do get enough sleep? One sensible solution would be to insist our children leave their mobile phones downstairs before going to bed. Ideally children would not have TVs or computers in their bedrooms, but this is increasingly rare, especially as children get older. Another helpful idea is to set time limits to the amount of time children can spend playing electronic games. These games are highly addictive; ask any parent what happens when they try to get their son to switch off the X-box! It has also been found that getting children to switch off and have a ‘cool down’ time before going to sleep is also very helpful. How about some wonderful old technology like reading a book?

I hope this gives you something to think about but doesn’t keep you awake at night!

Zzzzzzzzzzzzzz

I would also like to congratulate all the Musicians who took part in the Summer Breeze Concert on Wednesday afternoon. I am very proud to be Head of such a wonderful school and to have so many talented children and such an excellent team of music staff. The image used above shows just how much the children enjoyed their day.

May 03

Summer Holidays or more School Days?

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.

Mar 22

The Value of a Good Education

image

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.
Best Wishes
Keith Morrow

Mar 15

  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.
Best Wishes
Keith Morrow

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.

Best Wishes



Keith Morrow

Feb 19

The Pursuit of Happiness

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.

Be happy!