Each day I have visited every class; I have observed the pupils engaged in new discovery and investigation, striving to be their best selves and articulating their views and opinions with peers. I have led assemblies where I have been left with goose bumps at the children’s heartfelt singing as they sang the St. Helen’s College anthem for me. I have been immersed in discussions about Hadrian’s Wall, had the function of the heart explained to me, learnt about comparing as part of coding and observed art through literacy with the power of words. The teaching and learning I have witnessed in just one week have been incredibly inspiring.
While this busy and inspirational life at St. Helen’s College has begun for the new academic year, there have been reports and discussions in the news about whether grammar schools will be re-introduced nationwide by the Conservatives.
St. Helen’s College parents are no strangers to the 11+ preparations. Many of our current Year 6 pupils will be sitting their 11+ examinations starting this weekend, and we wish them all well. I am not about to launch a debate regarding the rights and wrongs of selecting at 11+ to gain a place at a senior school; in my mind, what is of greater importance is how ‘prep’ schools are preparing children for the uncertain future which lies ahead. With the rapid rate of political change in the world, none of us know whether our two year olds will need to pass particular exams in the future or not. I myself have a teenager and could not have foreseen a future for her in which the UK was not a part of Europe! What is clear is that our sons and daughters should be prepared to be versatile so that they can ‘adapt and thrive’ throughout their lives in an ever-changing environment.
St. Helen’s College prepares children for any future by teaching lifelong skills to develop character strengths such as wisdom, courage, humanity, justice, temperance and transcendence. Research has shown that using your character strengths can help to protect against, manage and overcome problems, improve relationships, enhance health and well-being and improve academic achievement.
Our unique curriculum from Nursery to Year 6 has embedded programmes of study such as Philosophy for Children (P4C), Mindfulness and Positive Psychology, which all support developing character and resilience.
Communication skills are developed extensively at St. Helen’s College. Children perform assemblies and plays regularly, and take part in the annual speech competition. Music concerts, talent shows, hustings speeches, drama and debating clubs, class presentations, speeches by pupil leaders and interview practice all help pupils to develop their ability to speak clearly and meaningfully. Their confidence is obvious and often commented upon by visitors to the school. These are lifelong skills, developed and honed throughout your children’s time with us. Today we have ex-pupils (Old Helenians) coming back to speak to current pupils about their journeys since leaving St. Helen’s College – so in fact we are able to continue to encourage the development of these skills even after pupils leave us!
Our pupils are encouraged to reflect on their academic and personal progress via their ‘learning logs’ and to set themselves targets based on their ‘approach to work’, such as their ability to persevere or to work independently or collaboratively. Assessment for Learning (AfL) is part and parcel of how pupils and teachers, or pupils as peers, collaborate to give feedback on their work and identify next steps for improvement. The journey to ‘mastery’ of a target or approach skill may take time, but the process itself teaches fundamental life skills. The word ‘FAIL’ is merely a ‘First Attempt at Learning’ and pupils develop the resilience and positive mindset to take the next step in their learning. Our educational philosophy encourages children to develop the metacognitive skills that are so important in making them effective lifelong learners and so proficient in self-reflection.
Great importance is placed on pupils generating and discussing ideas to improve our community and environment at St. Helen’s College. Through the school council, initiatives are often born and pupils see how self-reflection and reflection on the world around them can lead to positive change. Children here often take the lead on charity work – our programme of charitable activities is extensive - and community and leadership skills are developed in other areas too. Examples are the buddy system, our ‘Guardian Angels’ in Year 2, our Sports Leaders in Year 5, our Playground Pals, our Junior Road Safety Officers, our Librarians, and many, many more.
One blog does not give enough time to summarise all that we do to prepare pupils for life beyond St. Helen’s College. Our dynamic and creative curriculum, our innovative personal development programme, the extensive opportunities offered by our co-curricular programme and the emphasis on self-reflection and growth lay the foundations from which our pupils can blossom academically and personally.
Regardless of whether children sit and pass selective school exams at 11+ or not, we ensure that our pupils are prepared for a successful and, most importantly, a happy future.
Justine Greening - The Guardian