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.
I am delighted that, in response to demand from our own and prospective parents, we have embarked upon on a new chapter in the history of Trent College by opening a new baby and toddler unit as part of our Nursery, catering for babies from the age of 6 weeks and open 51 weeks of the year.
Over the past 12 years, The Elms has been building an enviable reputation for excellence in education. I am thrilled that we are able to take our expertise and passion for educating young children and develop this into a passion for giving the very highest standards of nursery child-care to the youngest members of the Trent Community.
What will mark us out from other Nurseries will be our high standards of individual care for children, the quality of relationships with children and parents, excellent resources and a commitment to employing the highest calibre of experienced and dedicated staff.
Trent College has been an important part of the local community for over 140 years. Both The Elms and Trent College, with the development of the Assisted Places Scheme and Scholarships, have worked hard to widen access to as many children as possible in the community, allowing them to benefit from a first class education. Parents are also able to use Government Nursery Funding to assist with our Nursery provision for 3 year olds.
There is enough in the news about the economic downturn to depress us all! What is so delightful about the launch of our newly extended Nursery, is not only the fact we have been able to create jobs in the local economy, but we will enable working mums to return to their careers by providing excellent nursery care for their babies. We continue to go from strength to strength, which shows the commitment our parents make to giving their children the very best possible start in life.
I would encourage all parents with babies and toddlers to make an appointment with Mrs Robinson (firstname.lastname@example.org) to book a tour of our Nursery as soon as possible!
Harvest is a difficult concept for children to fully understand. In our 24 hour culture, with round the clock supermarkets stocking goods from all corners of the world, the traditional nature of gathering the harvest is alien to all of us. Many children (and some adults too) are far removed from the production of food. The cling-filmed wrapped vegetables and smart packaging for meat seem hygienically removed from the soil of the field or abattoir.
At school, I think it is important that we try our best to celebrate harvest and pause to think of those far less fortunate than ourselves.
We celebrate Harvest at The Elms on the last day of the first half-term in Michaelmas. It is an excellent way to end the half-term and come together as a school community. I have shared with you my Harvest address to the children below.
“Good morning everybody.
Welcome to The Elms Harvest Festival Service.
I’d like to start by thanking you and your parents for giving so generously your harvest produce, which we donate to the Padley Centre, a centre for homeless persons in Derby. Your gifts mean that tomorrow someone can have a hot meal; something to drink, a shower, and feel just a little bit more loved and cared for.
I would also like to say thank you and well done to the talented musicians who played so marvellously in the Padley Concert, held in Derby Cathedral last Wednesday evening. You were excellent ambassadors for our school.
Today in our Harvest service we are thinking about the food we grow, and harvest and eat. I’d like us to think and wonder that much of the food we eat starts life as a tiny seed and then becomes something full of taste, and colour and flavour.
From such a small seed comes so much life and potential. A single grain of rice can, with the right care from the farmer, become a plant that multiplies and provides enough harvest to feed a nation.
Like the tiniest seed, we all have huge potential inside us, the power to do good and be something amazing. As I look around our chapel, from the newest fragile saplings in Nursery to the tall, strapping specimens in Year Six, I can see how you are all growing at The Elms. Not only in height, but in confidence, in skill, in ability and as young people with the capacity to grow further, to care about each other and make a positive contribution.
Let us give thanks to God today, not only for the harvest of food which we are so fortunate to enjoy, but give thanks for the harvest of talents and opportunities we enjoy.
Stand tall, stretch up and reach out.
Feel the wind in your hair, the rain on your back and the sunshine on your face.
Know that you have the potential to grow into someone very special, that you are fortunate to have so many opportunities, and pray that God helps you make the most of your talents, whilst helping those who are less fortunate than yourselves.
Let us thank God for all our blessings.”
I remember as a child, looking forward to the long summer holidays, and being haunted by the “back to school” signs that appeared in the windows of the high street shops before we’d even broken up for school! If anything, this is even more a mark of the times today, where we have Christmas decorations in the shops in October and Easter eggs for sale on Boxing Day. I never appreciated that those three little words “back to school” would continue to have such significance for me as an adult too.
With a mixture of excitement and trepidation, for children, their parents and teachers, the long summer holidays are over at last and at The Elms we welcomed back our existing children together with 68 new faces (our largest new intake ever).
As I held the door open and greeted our returning children at the Elms Upper School, my Deputy doing the same at the Elms Lower School, most faces were smiling, many had tales of holiday adventures to share with me, and a few parents looked a little anxious as their child had moved to The Elms from another school, or moved up from the Lower School. It was a similar tale with younger pupils, and indeed our youngest pupils in our Nursery, some of whom had rarely been left without mum or dad for a whole day before. Despite the slower than usual start to a school day because of children learning new routines: where to line up, where their coat pegs is, where to put bags, where musical instruments are stored, where to sit in assembly and Chapel, the day had gone extremely well. Only two children had tears in the infants, and these children were soon getting on fine (once parents had been persuaded to leave them), which all in all isn’t a bad statistic for a school of more than 340 children. I don’t know how many parents, or indeed teachers, shed a tear that morning. Whether the loss of their children from the home environment to school, or the feeling of middle age creeping in as one’s youngest child enters Year 6 (I find myself in this category), or perhaps the tears were of joy as mum and dad skipped off into the car park – was it the cry of “freedom” I heard as the 4x4’s roared off down the drive?
I thought that I would share with parents a few essential tips for helping your child settle in in their new school, or new class, or new teacher. So here goes…
1) Routine, routine, routine! There is nothing more that causes worry with children than not being prepared for school. As parents we can help our children be prepared. Firstly at home, a good routine to get into is before bed, to put out the school bag for the next day, and get your children (with help for younger children) to go through the checklist of items needed. Teachers will have given older children a timetable in their homework diaries and all parents will soon receive a welcome letter from the class teacher. Some children benefit from having a timetable or visual planner at home reminding them of what kit is needed on each day: swimming kit on Mondays, violin on Wednesdays, spelling homework on Fridays, etc. Having the right kit on the right day helps children get off to a flying start. It is also a good way of encouraging children to check themselves and to start to take responsibility for organising themselves.
2) Independence! All children are capable of remarkable independence from an early age – especially at school. As parents, we tend to do things for our children that they can do for themselves –often because it seems easier or is quicker in the morning when we’re rushing to get to school. For younger children, make sure they can dress themselves and can change into PE kit. Practise this at home and encourage your children to lay out clothes / put them in a neat pile at the end of the day. This helps enormously with changing for PE at school. It’s always telling when children get changed for PE, which children have a go at dressing themselves and which children present themselves in front of the teacher with arms outstretched, waiting for someone to do it all for them. Even older children can be completely disorganised when changing for games. It’s amazing how many children take each other’s kit home on a Friday instead of their own, which usually surfaces on Monday, thanks to the name labels that mums (dads do email in and complain) stitch into the 152 items of the school kit.
Equally, in the mornings, children are quite capable, from the very start of school, of hanging their own bag and coat on their own peg. A quick good-bye kiss, encouragement for your child to join the class line, carrying their own belongings and following the teacher into the classroom is all that is needed. Prolonging the good-bye or insisting that you will make an exception for your child and enter the cloakroom with bag and coat, is not helping your child become independent.
3) Responsibility! At school, we are as much about teaching children to take responsibility as we are about teaching the subjects in the curriculum. All children make mistakes, do things wrong, forget to behave in a certain way from time to time, and school is a safe and secure place in which children can make mistakes and learn from their mistakes. My advice to parents is to let your children take responsibility by not making excuses for them. If a child in the juniors forgets to bring in their homework or forgets their swimming kit, it is their mistake and not their parents. If a child is given a warning for talking in assembly or failing to follow the school rules, it is their mistake, not the child next to them. The best way parents can help their children be responsible is to allow their children to understand that actions have consequences, and this is how we all learn.
4) Communication! At The Elms, we have many and varied methods of communication including texts, emails and of course the website. Infants have the reading diary and juniors have the homework diary. Education is a tripartite process, involving the school, the parent and the child. Do find time to build up a relationship with your child’s teacher, giving positive comments as well as raising concerns. Do realise the best time to speak with your child’s teach is probably not first thing in the morning when they are getting ready to receive the class, unless it’s a quick message about the end of day arrangements or to let them know your child has been upset for some reason. The end of the day is always best. If in doubt, email you child’s class teacher (allow 24 hours for a reply) or email the school office / speak to Mrs Christie (Lower School) or Mrs Cullen (Upper School). I always encourage parents to raise any concerns early on and not to save up worries until they have become pressing. Most issues are resolved quickly and easily by having a polite word with the class teacher.
I remember when I first started teaching, being given the advice “Don’t smile until Christmas”. What was meant by this was one needed to set out one’s stall with the children very clearly in the first few weeks of term to ensure that the rest of the year went well. This is a very important truism in schools and The Elms is no exception. Over the coming weeks of a new school year, teachers and even Headmasters will be setting out our stall with the children. Your child may come home and tell you they have a strict teacher. That they were told off for talking when they shouldn’t be or that they had to practise walking down the path to assembly quietly. And yes, we’ll be doing all of these things to ensure that The Elms continues to enjoy an excellent reputation for our children’s behaviour, manners and self-discipline.
But I have to admit, I’ve never been very good at not smiling, so if your children look carefully, I’m sure they’ll see a smile creeping in before the term is out!
The headline in The Times Educational Supplement on Friday was “Books denied to 600,000”. The article proceeded to explain that the spending cuts were having a savage impact on the school library service, which provides books to more than 600,000 pupils in England. These are difficult times and Local Authorities face tough decisions in the coming years. I can’t help think that to make it more difficult for children to access books is a somewhat short-sighted approach to saving money and one we may well live to regret in the coming years.
How ironic that my Friday was spent promoting our school library. I spent an hour in my office discussing The Elms’ Library with the judges of the British Library Association design awards. I’m delighted that our library has made it through to the final stages of the 2011 national competition. The judges spent time in our library, seeing how it was used in lesson time and at lunchtime, talking to the staff and the children. Whilst many of the questions were design orientated, I was able to reflect on our library, added to The Elms two years ago, and think about what a school library adds to our school.
Although our library is located at The Elms Upper School, it is most definitely the library for our whole school. Everyone from the Nursery to Year 6 visit the library at least once each week and there is something for everyone in our library. Nursery children enjoy listening to stories and choosing books for themselves, curling up on the mini-sofas or lying down on the Elmer rug!
We teach information literacy skills to our older children, who become familiar with how to locate books, use the alphabetical and Dewey classification systems and how to use the computers to search for information. One of the most successful aspects of our library is the ‘book worm’ scheme for children. This is a wide and varied range of books, chosen by our school staff, as well as children’s recommendations, that we encourage children to read and enjoy. Children can sometimes lose their way once the structured reading schemes in the infants are mastered and the reward system of badges and certificates is certainly part of the motivation to read for some children.
Our library, apart from being a beautiful space, is at the heart of the reading culture that permeates The Elms. Whilst it would be wonderful to win the design award for our welcoming, visually stimulating, user friendly and child-centred library, there is something much more fundamentally important than the room. A room full of books is not a library, but a room full of books. What makes the difference to the children and teaching staff at The Elms is the people behind the library, our wonderful librarian and library assistant. Together Mirelle and Bev make up a formidable duo! They are great story tellers, fantastic organisers, avid readers and above all, good listeners. In fact, I’ve never ever heard them say “Shhhhhhhhhh”!
Having worked in other schools, some with library rooms and others with a hap-hazard collection of bookshelves, where at best a teacher has a few minutes a week to spare to tidy up the library, having a fully-staffed library is not a luxury, but an essential in any school that places reading, independent learning and children at the centre of its curriculum.