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!
I am a huge fan and user of modern technology. I recognise the opportunities it brings to organise one’s life, give access to a vast array of information and mis-information via the Internet, and its potential to revolutionize learning for all.
Advances in technology do not always mean progress. This is especially true when considering the potential harm of social media, which I am learning first hand! In the past few weeks I have had my Twitter account hacked, sending out messages to my followers about users who had made unkind comments as well as recommending ways to lose weight without altering one’s diet! If only it were true! I have also been sent Facebook comments which are at best unhelpful and do nothing to illuminate mis-understandings or seek answers to questions that would be best expressed face to face or in a telephone conversation. Posting a message on Facebook does not help answer a question or seek clarification on an issue.
It’s easy to hide behind ‘anonymous’ emails, tweets and Facebook comments and take comfort in the avatar of a virtual existence. I know from issues that are increasing coming into school, that we are all affected, including pupils who can be subjected to ‘cyber-bullying’. Many of our children have Facebook accounts, even though the minimum age for holding such an online account is 13 years. Children are easily upset when they receive unkind comments or ‘friends’ dislike their comments or photographs.
Social media is a wonderful tool for keeping in touch with family and friends across great distances, sharing ideas and making introductions. But none of this is a substitute for meeting real people, seeing their expressions, hearing their voice, shaking their hands and looking them in the eye. If we are not selective in the way we use Facebook, a generation will grow up with 1,000 on-line friends, but a deep loss that is the rich tapestry of human interaction.
Trent College has a proud history of being a boarding school, and whilst the fashion for boarding versus being a day pupil has waxed and waned over the years due to various social and economic circumstances (including the Harry Potter phenomenon!) boarding is once again on the rise.
Parents and children who may consider boarding as an option for their family are very welcome to attend the ‘Introduction to Boarding’ event being hosted by Trent College this Saturday. This is the first national event of its type and we are lucky to be able to host some very prestigious and knowledgeable guests on the day. During the morning the questions that parents and pupils have about boarding will all be answered; providing a real insight into the opportunities of modern boarding, the reality of boarding life, parenting a boarder and if boarding is right for your family.
Traditional full-time prep-school boarding, typically from the age of seven, has declined in the UK during the last 20 years, and is now the preserve of only a few traditional preparatory schools. However, there has been a surge in the number of prep and junior schools offering flexi-boarding in the UK. Currently, there are 218 junior and prep-schools in the UK that take in boarders. This represents a 7% rise on 2010. The number of boys and girls attending junior boarding is now at 14,000 in the UK.
There are many reasons why the flex-boarding model, where children either board part-time (typically a couple of nights per week) or board occasionally, is so popular. Flexi-boarding is attractive to many working parents for a variety of reasons. Busy work lives, extended meetings and business travel / conferences can be real headaches for working parents organising childcare. Many parents no longer have the extended family living close by, and increasing numbers of grandparents are living very active and fun-filled retirements!
Over the next couple of years we will see the demand for boarding places rise at Trent College, along with the introduction of boarding from Year 7 onwards and flexi-boarding. I am increasingly being asked by parents if boarding, especially flexi-boarding, could be an option for The Elms in the future. The simply answer is YES! This is something we are seriously looking into, especially for Years 5 and 6. I would be very interested to hear from parents your views on whether or not you would actually find this offer valuable, and perhaps an indication of how often you would use this service?
The Elms has established a strong reputation for the pastoral care of children. With the development of a small and bespoke boarding provision for boys and girls, we would aim to become a day school where children could spend the night, and a boarding school where children go home at the weekends. Your thoughts and comments please…
I urge you to attend this Saturday morning’s ‘Introduction to Boarding’ event with me, as an opportunity on our doorstep not to be missed, ensuring you have all of the information when planning the future stages of your child’s education, learning all you can from these third party specialists.
The morning begins at 9.00am and further details and an online registration form can be found at http://www.trentcollege.net/2358/boarding/event-an-introduction-to-boarding/
Also for consideration is the boarding taster weekend at Trent on Saturday 23rd June, which commences as Family Day draws to an end and will be a fun way to introduce the idea of sleeping at school!
Life is a mixture of the remarkable and unremarkable, the mundane and the exceptional. Schools echo life, but they are life heightened and magnified, which is why I enjoy being part of the community which is The Elms and Trent College. Hardly a week goes by without some special assembly, competition, concert, play, sporting event, etc, etc… Working at The Elms is life in the fast lane!
Unlike our big sister Trent, with 140 + years of history, tradition and rituals to fall back on, The Elms is very much the young upstart! In the 12 + years The Elms has existed, it has established some traditions of its own, and is still evolving as it comes of age. Some recent ‘traditions’ have proved so successful, it is hard to imagine they only existed this year! Examples of this are our wonderful Chapel Services with Father Whitwell, prefects having afternoon tea with the Head Master, new book worm awards, the list goes on and on.
Schools like Trent and The Elms are remarkable institutions. Life has become so informal, where handshakes are rare, standing to greet a visitor is a thing of the past and ties are a relic of a by-gone age. We instinctively know that life is better for all if we have rules and live by them. We hold our traditions firm at school and whilst I have no ability to stop the tide coming in, I am committed to ensuring that The Elms passes on to its children a sense of tradition and protocol that will equip them for Trent College and the world beyond.
This week, we celebrated Her Majesty’s Diamond Jubilee. Here we can learn about traditions living side by side with an evolving institution that takes people along with it. At The Elms, we wore our red, white and blue clothes. Our infants proudly paraded in the crowns they had created, whilst our juniors produced some stunning portraits of Queen Elizabeth II.
The children gathered, sang the National Anthem, Mrs Dixon raised the Union Flag and declared The Elms’ Jubilee Garden officially open, and then Father Whitwell led a special service in the Trent Chapel. Burgers and sausages were eaten, along with Jubilee jelly and crown biscuits. Just another day at The Elms.
God Save the Queen!
It wasn’t so much the chance to spend a day beside the sea-side, or indeed sample the candyfloss or stroll on the pier, which attracted me to this conference; it was the list of guest speakers that caught my eye. The speakers for the day included Rt Hon Michael Gove MP (Secretary of State for Education), Sir Michael Wilshaw (Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector for Education), Dr David Starkey (Historian) and Jeremy Paxman (Broadcaster and writer). It was an eminent list of speakers indeed.
The speakers were entertaining, thought-provoking, and at times, controversial. Dr David Starkey certainly gave me a mental workout and made me question how we teach History in school. But one of the speakers, Lord Bilimoria of Chelsea, an Indian born Life Peer and founder of Cobra Beer, shared some particularly wise words indeed. Lord Bilimoria spoke eloquently about the development of India and why all schools should teach their pupils about India.
As a child and needing some advice from his father, an officer in the army, about how to get on and succeed in this world, he received this simple advice:
“Go the extra mile. Whatever you are asked to do, however menial, do it and do more than it. If you are asked to make a cup of tea, do it without complaining, make the best cup of tea in your life and do something extra, wash up afterwards or bring a biscuit as well”.
I reflected on these wise words and I believe they speak a great deal of truth. Perhaps, in addition to a good education, ‘going the extra mile’ is the other essential ingredient in ensuring our children succeed, our businesses prosper and the world is a better place.
It’s certainly not a bad motto for any organisation, including The Elms.
Recently I spoke to final year graduate teachers about why they might wish to consider applying for a teaching position at an independent school.
Pulling subject material together for this speech really focused my mind once again on why the independent sector has so much going for it for teachers and the knock on effect that has on the quality of education children receive at independent schools.
When you think only seven per cent of the school population of England and Wales is educated in the fee-paying sector this means the majority of teachers and Heads working have had no personal experience of what it is like to be either a pupil or a teacher in the independent sector.
I was one of the ignorant 93% but five years ago I took a leap of faith and moved into the independent sector, a decision I’m very glad I made.
So as an experienced Head in the maintained sector why did I do it?
For me the key word in all of this is ‘independent’. I had found myself increasingly being occupied by local and national initiatives that were not always appropriate or meaningful for the children in my school. The political football that maintained education has increasingly become is, at best, unhelpful to schools and at worst damaging to good schools and good Heads working hard to deliver quality education to the children in their care.
SATS and league tables are also hugely distorting factors in primary education in the maintained sector. The most obvious consequence of SATS is to corrupt the curriculum, particularly of Year 6 children who spend vast amounts of time cramming for tests that mean so much to the school, but that add little to the school’s knowledge of a child’s strengths and weaknesses, doing even less to offer a broad and meaningful education to an 11-year-old child.
Working in the independent sector has much to commend it. Here are a few reasons and the benefits to a child’s education.
1) Class sizes are smaller.
The average class size in an independent prep or junior school is around 16 pupils, making life easier in terms of classroom management and teachers getting to better know pupils. This doesn’t mean teaching in the independent sector is the easy option, far from it! The teaching, lesson preparation and marking are more intense due to higher expectations on independent school teachers to deliver quality and individual attention in the classroom and extra-curricular activities.
As any parent or teacher will tell you, it only takes one or two highly disruptive children in a class of 30 to significantly damage the education of the majority. The ability to tie Heads up in red tape if they wish to take action and remove a disruptive child from a school hampers effective maintained schools establishing good order.
2) Are parents more demanding in the independent sector?
Parents make huge sacrifices to send their children to fee-paying schools. They do this in the belief that class sizes, academic and extra-curricular opportunities will give their children the best possible start in life.
Having taught in maintained schools serving deprived areas as well as in the independent sector, my own experience is that parents in the fee paying sector, are on the whole, no more or less reasonable than ambitious, involved and caring parents elsewhere. The vast majority of parents work hand in hand with the school to ensure a child gets the maximum out of the opportunities.
3) Autonomy in curriculum planning.
The majority of junior and prep schools, especially those with senior schools attached, are free to innovate their own curriculum. There is no compulsion to teach any particular subject in a particular way. Independent schools have the freedom to adopt ‘the best’ parts of a national curriculum and forget the rest. About a third of independent schools do not use SATS at Key Stage 2, freeing up the curriculum in Year 6 for really creative learning.
Independent schools are inspected according to how well they deliver and meet their own aims.
Most independent schools employ specialist teachers in MFL, science, ICT, art, design, music, drama and PE / games. There are great opportunities for Subject Leaders to be Head of Subject in the independent sector, to specialise in their chosen field and develop their career path in the same way that secondary teachers can still develop.
Prep-schools (with children in Key Stage 3), do prepare children for the Common Entrance Exam for entry into Senior School at age 13. This is a very rigorous and traditional approach, but even this is being reformed.
4) Teachers stay longer at the same school in the independent sector.
Even at junior school level, there is much more of a career structure for teachers in the independent sector. This is one of the reasons teachers typically remain in the same school for longer in the independent than in the maintained sector. Some schools offer payments for extra duties and larger schools with boarding communities can also offer accommodation to teachers.
This continuity and familiarity in teaching staff enhances the ‘community’ feel of a school that it so inherent in its long-term success in nurturing children to becoming confident, responsible young adults. The academic relationship between children and teachers can also be developed over time so that there exists a deeper mutual understanding between each, enabling each child’s own individual learning needs to be considered more carefully.
Working in an independent school offers a teacher the chance to shape their own future while helping children make the most of the traditions and opportunities to take on leadership roles and responsibility that independent sector education nurtures. That can only be a good thing for the children they are teaching!
All parents know how important sending their child to the best school is and the enhanced life chances their child has as a result of an excellent education.
Over the coming weeks, parents up and down the country will be opening envelopes that either bring them great joy or devastating news in terms of their child’s next educational step. The lottery that is state education is a bureaucratic and unwieldy beast!
Parents go to extraordinary lengths to secure a place for their child at a good state school.
Stories of false addresses, conversion to a particular faith, donations to school funds, and local councils hiring private detectives feature from time to time in the press.
Whilst some of these stories are inevitably at the more extreme end of the school admissions spectrum, they illustrate the lengths some parents are willing to go to secure the right school place for their child. A more common issue is the moving into the catchment area of a desirable state school and the associated house price bubble that prices some parents out of being able to select a good school for their child.
There is another option of course, and that is to stay put, not to suffer the house price wars, and to consider an independent education for your child. The contrast in simplicity of the application process and choices available to parents who elect to send their children to independent schools is stark.
As a Head who has worked in both the maintained and independent sectors, I always find the view that parents in the state sector are somehow more ‘worthy’ than those who are paying for their child’s education a strange one.
Having been the Head in a leafy, well healed, state-maintained village school, where most parents chose the local state school, it was clear many of those parents could well afford an independent education for their children. Inevitably income brings choices, and many of those parents chose to spend their income on houses, cars, holiday homes, skiing trips, etc confident that their child’s education was being well looked after by the state.
By the same token, at many independent schools we have plenty of parents who are making huge financial sacrifices, living in modest houses, driving old cars and taking very few holidays, in order that they can pay school fees and give their children the enormous opportunities and breadth of education that the independent sector has to offer.
Currently, the independent sector educates around seven per cent of children nationally. It is estimated that between a further 7-10 per cent of children in the state sector could be educated in the independent sector if their parents wished to.
Despite the harsh economic climate in which we find ourselves, numbers of children educated in the independent sector has remained buoyant. I suspect that as the cuts in state education bite, along with the pressure on class sizes due to the rising school population, we will see a flight to independent education as those parents who can afford to pay, realise that a first class education is a worthwhile alternative investment.