School News and Head's Blog
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Posted on: 30/09/2022
St. Helen's Day by Mrs. CrehanYesterday we celebrated St. Helen's Day - a time to remember our school history in our 98th year.
The children in Years 2 - 6 congregated in the Windsor Garden for an assembly in the afternoon. We had an ex-pupil, Ishil Mehta, reminiscing on the time Mr. Crehan pursued a burglar down Parkway to retrieve a cassette player that was stolen through an open window during the school day. He didn't tell us much about his own life but he is a very successful businessman who is a trustee of the St. Helen's College Trust.
The Year 5 pupils sang us a song which Mrs. Smith and I wrote specially for St. Helen's Day a few years ago about the life of St. Helen herself.
The Head Girl/Boy team gave us the whole history of the school referring to a wonderful display, created by Mrs. Pruce, of photographs of St. Helen's College from 1924 to the present day.
I then told the children a few anecdotes from when our family moved into Cambria when my mother, Mrs Evans, took over the school from the second Head, Mrs. Hempstead, when I was 11 years old. I was remembering that at that time there were no administrative staff and no office. If I or my brother or sister were off school through illness, we had to run down the stairs from our sickbeds, in view of the children who were in a class which is now the library, to answer the phone and take details of prospective pupils. It was very different in those days! The children then asked further questions about what it was like 50ish years ago.
We then had a wonderful event for the alumni and past teachers in the evening. Our present pupils were performing as background music and then leading tours around the school to show the alumni the changes since their day, and also what hasn't changed.
The alumni have all done so well! We had a female professional footballer, a female engineer working on HS2, Oxford and Cambridge university students and a graphic designer who told us that her sister who would have come but was still at work as a BBC climate-change journalist looking into some ecological disaster which has affected the health of people abroad and is being denied by the authorities. And there were many more amazing careers our alumni are now involved in. Hopefully St. Helen's College can claim their good starts which have led to where they are today. We were encouraging them to spread the word to other Old Helenians amongst their family and friends - and they still know many - that we will be having a big celebration for our centenary in two years.
We had many ex-staff who attended including the very first Deputy Head, who used to call Mr. Crehan 'The Boy' when he first started as Head, because he was the youngest member of staff. Mr. McLaughlin said to her, 'I have your room' and she responded, 'I didn't have a room!'
So a great day was had remembering our St. Helen's College family past and present, which is growing by the year and of whom we are so proud!
Posted on: 16/09/2022
Nurturing Our Youngsters
This week I was quite shocked to learn that there are 260 million children around the world who are not in any form of education and 175 million who are not enrolled in any form of pre-primary education.
An interview piece in the TES with Sarah Brown, the founder and chair of global education charity Theirworld, talks about the importance of teachers. Ms Brown says, "I don’t think there’s a person who has success in their lives that doesn’t credit some of that back to a teacher."
The first two weeks of this academic year have been such a pleasure in school as I have breathed in the joy that your children create on a daily basis with their thirst for learning and their willingness to embrace all the experiences each day. However, I would like to add to what Ms Brown states and say that, "I don’t think there’s a person who has success in their lives that doesn’t credit some of that back to a member of the school staff team."
As parents you have chosen St. Helen’s College as your child’s school, investing in your child’s future, and for this we are most grateful. However, the success of your children is also testament to the support you give them at home and to every adult who interacts with them as part of the St. Helen’s College family. Many of our pupils have been with us since they were aged 2 or 3, enjoying the best possible start in life with a wide range of experiences.
The research from ‘Theirworld’ includes these observations:
90% of a child’s brain development takes place between birth and the age of five.
This is why the five elements of nurturing care – health, nutrition, play, learning and protection – are so important for early childhood education and development.
Early years education and development can help identify a child’s learning needs early on, improve their socialisation and set them on the road to reaching their full potential.
Your children are fortunate to have incredibly supportive families and a team of staff who nurture them on a daily basis. The relationship between home and school is crucial. This is why we enlighten parents about how you can support your children in their development in regular meetings throughout the year.
The EYFS (Early Years Foundation Stage) is called such for a reason - it lays the foundation of development for your children to enable them to thrive. The social and emotional aspect is the most important area of learning in very young children and creates the pathway for future learning and development.
Some of you may also have viewed some of our ‘Teddy Talks’ on our ‘Pre-School Parenting’ tab on our school website. They are there to help families with common aspects of raising your children. Our staff have a diverse range of expertise in many areas and sharing this is helpful to our current and prospective parents. If you have never visited our Pre-Parenting area then please do so - you may find some of it very helpful.
I am proud to be the Head of St. Helen’s College and to have such an incredibly skilled and committed staff who all have the best interests of your children at the heart of all that they do, whether that be the teaching or support staff. The relationship between home and school is key and it is this unique partnership which creates the haven of harmony for your children to thrive each and every day.
Posted on: 9/09/2022
The first week of any school year is all about ‘new beginnings’ but up until yesterday, prior to the sad news of the death of Queen Elizabeth II, her Sovereign Majesty, we had not imagined what we would all be experiencing as a nation today.
This morning in school we commemorated the life of Her Majesty in special assemblies and I was proud to observe how our pupils from Year 2 to Year 6 engaged and reflected during the assemblies.
We discussed the St. Helen’s College motto:
Strive for excellence
Help others achieve
Care for each other
We reflected on how Queen Elizabeth II embodied these values, serving her country right up until three days ago when she invited Elizabeth Truss to be our new Prime Minister. I am sure that we may all have special memories of occasions or events that stand out in our minds when Queen Elizabeth made an impact on the lives of others as she carried out her duties with such selfless service.
I have my own very special memory of when I met the Queen in 1986, when I volunteered at the Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh as a VIP Hostess looking after dignitaries and guests. I was honoured to be selected to be on Royal Box duty for several days at the Meadowbank Athletics Stadium and greeted the Royal Family as a guard of honour on their entrance one day. We curtsied to the Queen and she congratulated us on the role we were playing for the Games and told us to keep up the good work! The fun side of the Queen came out that day as the audience cheered on the athletes and a Mexican wave started to make its way around the stadium. Despite the security announcements begging the people in the stands not to participate in the Mexican wave, the younger Royal (Prince Edward) wholeheartedly took to his feet and waved his arms in the air. Of course as VIP hostesses we followed instructions and remained calm and composed (or I thought I had - but this photo may tell a different story!). The photo shows the fun of the moment and the Queen had that twinkle in her eye as she saw her son being the young royal rebel! I was then privileged to join the Royal Party for afternoon tea - despite my shaking hands and my naive awkwardness as a 19 year old I still hold those memories fondly.
Your children will experience great changes in their lives and this is such a monumental historical time for us all as we transition to having a King on the throne.
Please speak with your children and share your memories, listen to their feelings and embrace this period of change. Queen Elizabeth II’s death on September 8th 2022 marks the beginning of a new era for the House of Windsor.
I leave you with the prayer we shared today.
God, Our Father, all through our country we are sad at this time, because our Queen is no longer with us. She will be missed by so very many, but we know that you are looking after her. Bless those close to her. May they know they are remembered by us. And bless our country at this time of change. May we all work together as one family, and be ready to serve others as our Queen served us. In Jesus' name we ask it. Amen.
May Her Royal Majesty Queen Elizabeth II rest in peace. God Bless.
Posted on: 8/07/2022
Slowing Down At The Campfire
Yesterday I had one of my final Mindfulness sessions with the Year 6 pupils and we discussed the importance of having ‘campfire time' to deal with the stresses of modern day living. Back in the days when humans had to go out hunting for food, our bodies were programmed for survival and that fight, flight or freeze reaction was a lifesaver - it enabled us to ‘act smart' without having to 'think smart' (which takes longer). Campfire time gave the hunters time to rest, relax and recover from a stressful day of hunting.
Modern stressors trigger mental activity rather than physical activity. Because of this, we do not tend to spend and burn up our stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. Instead, these may end up getting stored in our bodies. They can accumulate over time and increase our baseline levels of stress, so that we may end up living our lives in a perpetual state of stress! This in turn may lead to more over-thinking and rumination. If this sounds familiar, you are definitely not alone.
As I discussed these ideas with the Year 6 pupils, there was a lot of nodding and agreement and they shared their thoughts with each other. They articulated where they wear their ‘stress signatures’ or how they feel ‘stress’ in their bodies, minds and actions. Our pupils are so astute and tuned into their minds and bodies that some of their responses in this session were incredibly moving.
Adults and children alike need that campfire time. As adults, we need to model healthy behaviours to our children, including being able to slow down and allow ourselves to rest, relax and recover.
I have been following Carl Honore for some time now and he is such an advocate of ‘slow’. His latest book, Bolder, certainly hits a note for me. In this, he attempts to eradicate the negativity surrounding ageing and argues for recognition of the positive aspects of ageing. I am now happily embracing my mid-fifties!
The last few weeks in any school are incredibly busy but here at St. Helen’s College our last few weeks have really packed a punch. Tonight I felt quite overwhelmed at what I still have to achieve in such a short space of time. I recognised this in my body as I reached for paracetamol for the headache I had been ignoring! But instead of popping the paracetamol I picked up a magazine which has been sitting on my desk for several weeks, flicked through it and chuckled as I savoured the Kids National Geographic! I slowed down and did something enjoyable, rested and read a short snippet about how music matters. Grooving along to funky music, singing, chilling and listening to music improves your mental wellbeing (we all know this but do we all do this enough?). I now admit to you all that the weekend before last I had a ‘Glastonbury’ weekend! No, I was not at Worthy Farm - but I danced around my living room on Friday, Saturday and Sunday and had the time of my life, so that by the time Monday came I felt rested, refreshed and ready for the week ahead!
So, what are you going to do for your campfire time - how will you slow down this weekend? Whatever you are doing, however you rest and recharge, value this time - it could be a lifesaver!
Posted on: 21/06/2022
Tradition by Mrs. Crehan
Mr Crehan and I attended a very successful Sports Day on Friday. At the final ceremony Mrs Drummond unexpectedly asked if I would like to say something to the gathering. Observant parents will have noticed the slight tussle between Mr Crehan and myself - he is always so good at the on-the-spot speeches whereas I would rather think it through beforehand and this is why I will frequently sing my speeches at weddings/ events and also at the end of term to the leaving teachers - I prefer to have time to think it all through and consider my words (often rhyming!)
I woke up in the early hours of the morning and realised that I did have something I'd like to say on the subject of this year's Prep Sports Day but I wasn't ready to say it on the day, so here it is in a blog! ( Not a song on this occasion.)
I go back a long way in St.Helen's history. I was 11 years old when we moved in to Cambria to live when my mother, Mrs Evans, took over the school from Mrs Hempstead, who was the 2nd head teacher in its history. I have been associated with St. Helen's for 52 years of its 98 years. ( Any ideas for how to celebrate our centenary in 2 years time gratefully appreciated!)
So 52 years ago St.Helen's Sports Day took place in the grounds of Oak Farm, exactly where our Lower School buildings stand today. We had 60 metre tracks painted out and the races were sprints, slow bicycle ( where you try to be last to cross the line by wobbling slowly on your bicycle), egg and spoon, sack race and dressing up race where you put on various items of clothing and then race to the finish. I don't think there were any field events.
Going back as far as I do, I am aware of tradition and not losing some of the things from the past that we have valued at St. Helen's, perhaps for sentimental reasons, while obviously embracing things that are clearly beneficial to the children and the school.
This Sports Day was very different under the sports leadership of Mr. Harrington; it was a great improvement on the distant past and even on the more recent past. It was fantastic that every child got the opportunity to try every field event, as well as timing each child individually in their sprints so that the finals were fairly raced against the fastest children in the afternoon. The all day format and the huge help offered by the Year 9 ex-St.Helen's children meant that the day was reasonably relaxed for the staff, and hopefully the parents enjoyed the opportunity to follow their children around the stadium followed by a picnic lunch with their family.
There were many other changes; the most memorable was the whole school relay with every child running in short bursts, governed by a flag being waved Grand Prix style by a staff member.
So this was clearly a great improvement on the Sports Days of 50 years ago but there is something that hasn't changed underlying the day; mainly the strong values demonstrated, but also the attention to detail and the meticulous organization.
There is something special about the essence of St.Helen's which has been handed down through the generations and is still very tangible today - the DNA that also brought so many ex- pupils back to our school fete.
A unique factor from St. Helen's history is that there have been only 5 sets of heads ( sets in that two sisters founded the school and then Mr Crehan and I led the school together) in almost a century and each head has chosen their own successor according to their values and the direction they want for the school. This will have led to a strong unison of purpose over the years, which is still imbued by every teacher and pupil.
Just as the baton is passed on in a school relay each pupil needs to hold on to the core essence of St. Helen's and then pass it on to the next generation of pupils to preserve for hopefully our next few hundred years!
Our unique DNA is our firm foundation on which we build the future, and St.Helen's is very forward- thinking in every area of the curriculum.
Aren't you glad I didn't say or sing all this at the end of a baking hot Sports Day?
'It ain't what we do, it's the way that we do it!'
Posted on: 10/06/2022
Celebrating OpportunitiesAs we returned to school on Monday after a glorious weekend of Jubilee celebrations, I was somewhat apprehensive that perhaps our St. Helen’s College Platinum Jubilee celebration day might not quite have the impact we had hoped for due to it falling after the official weekend of events. However, I was not disappointed as our school community came together in true St. Helen’s College style to continue the pomp and ceremony of the events of the weekend. Everyone looked wonderful in red, white and blue, with crowns and flags bearing regalia. We had singing, dancing and fanfares as the Jubilee competition flags were raised and the most wonderful tea parties across the school. We revisited the values of the Commonwealth and it was warming to hear the children discuss how many of those values are also being embodied here at St. Helen’s College. Your children are such a joy to be around each day and they certainly appreciate every opportunity that comes their way.
We have now had four incredibly successful residential trips for our Year 3 through to Year 6 pupils and I thoroughly enjoyed my week in France with Year 6. I am somewhat saddened to hear that some schools have not yet reinstated their pre-covid offerings of residential trips to students or have resisted travelling overseas with them. We were delighted that our chateau in France, ‘Chateau de la Baudonniere’, was reopened and that we could enjoy all the opportunities offered by such a residential school trip. Over the years of attending numerous school residentials I have often been asked by friends outside of education why I enjoy taking children on such trips. Until you have experienced one it is hard to put into words what we gain from them as adults. However, I can say with my hand on my heart that it is a privilege and pleasure to spend time with the children of St. Helen’s College on residentials. It is undoubtedly incredibly hard work and a huge responsibility for staff to act ‘in loco parentis’ for so many children, but the cohort of Year 6 pupils this year were such great company in France and throughout the week. No matter where we were, either onsite or out and about visiting other places, we received so many positive comments from members of the general public. Our pupils really do stand out among the crowd with their manners and social etiquette and they show genuine enthusiasm for the opportunities they are given.
This week I joked with the staff at our staff meeting and the children in assembly and recommended that we all buckle ourselves in for a fast and furious roller coaster ride this half term, as the school calendar is jam packed with so many wonderful opportunities for our children and the community in general. This week has not disappointed us - and as we enter the weekend exhilarated from the past 5 days, do remember to allow your children to recharge over the weekend. Next week brings an abundance of new learning and opportunities!
Happy weekend everyone!
Posted on: 20/05/2022
WellbeingDuring our Wellbeing Day this week, we spoke with pupils about the five pillars of wellbeing, which are:
To take notice
To be active
To keep learning
The children here at St. Helen’s College are encouraged daily (not just on Wellbeing Day!) to live their lives according to these five pillars. I have been reflecting today on how, as a school, we do this.
There is great joy in giving. We teach the children about performing acts of selfless service, raising money for those less fortunate and the importance of giving time to friends or those who are struggling.
Connecting with others is one of the most important things in life. Through our values programme, we explore friendship, co-operation, determination, love, kindness and more. In class, on the playing field and in music and drama productions, children learn to work collaboratively with others. But it is in our Mindfulness, Philosophy for Children and Positive Psychology programmes that connectedness really comes alive. We help the children to develop positive, enriching listening skills and to connect not just with others, but with their own thoughts and feelings.
Taking notice can mean many things, from stopping to appreciate the beauty of the world around us, to thinking about how other people are feeling and the reasons for their behaviour, to concentrating on something new, to developing self-awareness by noticing our own emotions and thoughts. We encourage our pupils to take notice of themselves, their community and their world. So often, taking notice is the first step in taking responsibility.
We all know that being active is important for both physical and mental health. You only have to look at the playgrounds here at school to see the joy that simply running and climbing can bring. Through active playtimes and a well-planned and expertly-delivered PE and Games programme and co-curricular programme, we ensure that the children have plenty of physical activity during their time at school.
And so to the fifth pillar, learning. It is no surprise to hear from a Headteacher that this is one of the most important things in life. Every day here is a school day, and every day really should be a school day for all of us. Certainly the children at St. Helen’s College are learning daily, but so too are the adults. We are engaged in professional, creative and personal development through formal channels, of course, but we also take every opportunity to learn from your children who, so often, have something new to teach us.
I hope that parents, too, will embrace the five pillars of wellbeing to support your own physical and mental health and to model healthy living to your children. It can be hard to prioritise yourself, but your own wellbeing is the most important thing, so please do!
You might also like to take a look at the wellbeing homework that has been shared with your children - maybe you could have a go too. You can see it here.
Have a wonderful weekend of wellbeing!
Posted on: 22/04/2022
21st Century EducationAt the beginning of our summer term I felt that it was an ideal opportunity to remind us of the St. Helen’s College aims:
Love of Learning
We aim to inspire a lifelong thirst for creative, stimulating and rewarding learning, leading to the full development of every child’s academic potential.
We aim to instil core moral values, inspiring virtue, responsibility, resilience, independence, mindful self-awareness and a desire for continuing self-development.
Involvement and Challenge
We aim to inspire an ongoing desire to develop talents, nurture the widest possible range of interests, and contribute to society as confident, compassionate and responsible citizens and leaders of the future.
These aims also extend to our staff and many of you may be aware that as a staff we are also committed to be lifelong learners and it is by continuing on this path of professional learning that we can continue to inspire and challenge your children.
On Tuesday we welcomed a guest speaker to St. Helen’s College - Professor Guy Claxton. Guy is a world-renowned cognitive scientist and emeritus Professor of the Learning Sciences at the University of Winchester. He has influenced educational theory and practice across the world and I was delighted that he was able to attend our staff training day to share his views on education for the 21st Century. I do not intend to reiterate what Guy shared with us but I highly recommend that you read one of his blogs here.
Here is an extract from his blog:
“A few days ago I had a very thought-provoking and productive lunch with my friends Becky Carlzon and Adrian Bethune. Becky is the guiding spirit behind Learning Pioneers and co-author, with me, of Powering Up Children: The Learning Power Approach to Primary Teaching. Adrian is founder of Teachappy (“Happier Teachers, Happier Children”), and a great ambassador for mindfulness in education.
I came away fired up about how important it is to build education around a clear specification of the kinds of young people we are aiming to develop: what do they really need to know; be able to do; and be like in their attitudes and mindsets? And saddened, yet again, at the astonishing level of intellectual lethargy displayed by society at large. Where are the urgent debates about what an education fit for the 21st century should be like? Almost nowhere. (Even Radio 4 only dips a superficial toe into this shark-infested water every now and again.)
So on the train back to Sussex I bashed out the following. What do you think?
What we need is a shared vision of education as empowering young people with the knowledge, values, capabilities and character strengths to be a force for good in the world, and thus find the continuing fulfilment of a life well lived. This means:
Giving young people opportunities to explore many different potential avenues of excellence (both within 'school' and beyond),and discover the interests and occupations that may give their lives purpose, meaning and the kind of quiet happiness with themselves that is so different from complacency.
Giving them a diet of escalating challenges that will engage their energy and effort, the exercise of which will naturally lead them to develop a background 'mindset' of generalisable character strengths (aka 'positive learning dispositions' or 'qualities of mind') such as these "12 Pillars of Fulfilment":
presence - being alive to all the features and complexities of significant situations
discernment - having a reliable moral 'nose' for that which is fulfilling, nurturing and 'wholesome'
self-care - creating their own social and physical ecology - habits of rest and recreation, sources of nurturance, support and advice - so that they can bring their full energy and intelligence to the pursuit of their passions
critical thinking and ‘fake news’ detection - discerning and calling out that which is sham, shallow, specious or seductive (a la Greta Thunberg)
self-awareness - an honesty and vigilance about the habits, beliefs and insecurities that might be their Achilles Heels or lead them astray
craftmanship - being dissatisfied with anything but their best; willing to practise, draft, revise and respond to feedback
adaptability - having the awareness and resourcefulness to change tack and adjust as they go along
collegiality - having a friendly and open attitude that makes it easy for them to find and join teams and communities that support their core purposes
buoyance and resilience – being able to bounce back from frustration and setbacks and recommit to their goals
self-discipline - prioritising and devoting energy and perseverance to that which is truly important to them
curiosity - a judicious keenness to engage with and investigate novelties, challenges and uncertainties that bear on their values and projects
imagination - the ingenuity to create fresh possibilities of thought and action that further their purposes
I see these as constituting the trunk – the ‘common core’ of a viable character - out of which can grow all the varied branches – the interests, passions and idiosyncrasies that make everyone unique and special.
Seeing mindfulness-like practices as on-going practical supports for developing all these qualities of mind – as the evidence indeed suggests it is. Organisations like the Mindfulness in Schools Project need to present mindfulness as much more deeply valuable than just helping to reduce stress. It is an all-purpose fertiliser for the growth of a strong and supple mind.
Equipping youngsters with the starter kits of knowledge and skill that will enable them to make progress as both actors and learners. This is hard but vital. Why Trigonometry rather than Neuroscience? Why the Tudors rather than the critical analysis of Fake News?
Enabling teachers to embrace their role as coaches and guides, and to develop their own resources and sensibilities, in the service of their students' journeys. An army of teachers who were keen to grow and extend their skill and insight day-by-day would transform children’s experience of school.
Enabling teachers and school leaders to harness (and if necessary resist or subvert) external pressures and requirements on them and their students that threaten to derail this vision. Innovation will come from brave and ingenious school principals and their staff, not from Whitehall.”
Don’t you think that the pillars of fulfilment sound very similar to what we here at St. Helen’s College aspire to achieve with your children? Much of what Guy discussed with us enabled us to reflect on our pedagogical practices and as a teaching team we will be continuing to review our curricula and practices in order to prepare our children for their futures.
Last night we held a meeting for parents of our current Year 3 and Year 4 pupils as they begin to think about the next step in their child’s educational journey. The aim of the evening was to lay out what we do at school to prepare your children for senior school transition and assessments. Pupil wellbeing is crucial to their ability to learn and flourish and we hope that the information shared has been food for thought for all who attended.
It is so important that we do not compare children with each other but allow them to develop their interests and talents and recognise that they all make progress at different rates but also may need different input to enable them to unlock understanding and hone their skills.
I will leave you with a wonderful analogy I heard in the staffroom this morning:
For a plant to flourish to its magnificent best, it needs to be nurtured and grown in the right conditions. All need light, water and nutrients but some need shade and clay soil whilst others need sun and sandy soil. People, too, thrive in different conditions. We need to provide the conditions in which children will flourish. The type of school that best suits one child may be entirely wrong for another. The route to finding a place where a child will grow and excel is not to look for the most prestigious school and expect the child to adapt to that school but to find the school that best fits a child.
You may wish to watch this video here where Guy discusses the concept of ‘Learning being Learnable’. I have been inspired by how the St. Helen’s College staff embrace every opportunity to connect with your children and how committed they are to the continuous learning process for not only your children but for themselves too! What an amazing community we have!
Here’s to a wonderful summer term ahead!
160 Blog Posts found - Showing 1-9