School News and Head's Blog

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Posted on: 19/04/2018

Head's Blog - Nurturing The Love Of Writing

There has been recent debate in the news on the detrimental effects of touch screen devices on the development of young children’s handwriting skills.  Over the past ten years there has been a rapid increase in the use of ipads and other touch screen devices and young babies and toddlers are amazing parents with their incredible use of swiping actions as they navigate the apps on their parents’ phones or tablets. Personally, I am saddened when I see youngsters in restaurants glued to tablets while the adults engage in social conversation. Don’t get me wrong – I am not against the use of technology! Indeed, some of the games and apps being developed for young children are super for encouraging the development of certain skills. However, recent research has seen a decline in children’s handwriting skills caused by the lack of dexterity and movement skills needed to hold a pencil. Traditional craft activities such as playdoh, drawing, painting, cutting and sticking, threading beads or doing jigsaws seem to be disappearing with the influx of technology. These activities can play a crucial part in developing the fine motor skills needed by children as they grow, including their handwriting skills. Handwriting skills are important and I am sure that many of you will fully support me in this. There are some people who feel that it does not matter if you are able to have good handwriting or not as the use of technology increases. However, I am pleased to say that here at St. Helen's College we pride ourselves on teaching the children handwriting skills and there is great excitement as they work towards gaining their ‘pen licence’ in Middle School.  I am sure many of you were impressed at the quality of the handwriting and writing on display at Exhibition Day recently. Over the Easter holidays I was touched as I received several postcards from children who had written to their classes from their holiday travels.  I urge you as parents to continue to encourage all of your children to take pride and joy in the art of handwriting. I hope that many of our children still write thank you letters to family and friends for gifts that they receive on special occasions.  You could also encourage your children to keep a diary and/or reflections book, to compile written fact files or to have a go at writing stories...writing should be enjoyable, relevant and fun! Our Year 3 pupils and Year 6 pupils have the opportunity to write penpal letters to children in Spain and France – and so practise not only their handwriting, but also writing in a foreign language! I have fond memories of writing activities as a child.  I kept a diary from about the age of 8 right through to my teenage years!  I recently found these in my mother’s attic and spent hours reminiscing, laughing and cringing about some of what I had written! There was a magazine called ‘Blue Jeans’ which had penpal pages and for over three years I wrote to a lovely girl in Zambia who lived in a convent school. Sadly I have lost touch with her but the joy of receiving her air mail letters I still remember. I was fortunate to keep in touch with my childhood French penpal and met up with her and her family on a holiday to France some 20 years later. My husband seems to have forgotten that we spent several months in different countries many moons ago when we were dating – but I still have all the lovely handwritten letters we wrote to each other! These are all examples of such special memories, all kept on paper for years to come, and of relationships built by the power of the pen.  And all this before the influx of technology. Last term we discussed how we need to model reading to children and to be seen by our children reading a book for pleasure, relaxing and enjoying texts. The same could also be said for writing. So this term, I challenge you all to share the love of writing and to show your children that you still value the skill of handwriting. Write a letter to someone who you have not seen for a while, start a reflective journal (these are really useful for the work place!), or write with your children on a shared writing activity: a poem, a shared family travel journal over the duration of a holiday, or a story/play that you create together.  Happy writing! https://www.theguardian.com/teacher-network/2018/apr/05/putting-pen-to-paper-instilling-a-love-of-the-written-word Mrs. Drummond
Posted on: 16/03/2018

Saving Water - Children Are The Future (By Mr. Lewis)

    When it comes to saving water, the children are the future When scientists search for life on other worlds, they begin by looking for water. Water is vital for life and yet in the affluent West we take it for granted, wasting it,  polluting it and disrupting the water cycle. Next Thursday is the United Nations World Water Day and, to coincide with this, Waterwise will be running a UK Water Saving Week. Each day will have a theme with a downloadable pack full of ideas, information, challenges, posters, infographics and water saving tips.   I must declare an interest in water efficiency. I grew up in Cape Town -  the first modern city to declare a day on which it will run out of water. The date has been pushed back from mid-April but when Day Zero comes, homes will not be supplied with running water and residents will need to queue for water rations. Cape Town’s annual rainfall is greater than London’s and its population is less than half of ours but a recent drought and mismanagement have led to the crisis. Of course, in some places fresh, clean water is even more difficult to come by than just having to queue for it. Eight years ago, my 16 year old daughter and I volunteered in a rural village in Ghana. It was near a lake but due to poor infrastructure there was no fresh running water available so water was trucked from elsewhere and sold in plastic bags. We were unable to wash properly and my daughter became seriously ill. This experience was one of the motivators for her to study water science and governance, which has led her to co-ordinating Water Saving Week. We may have hopes and plans for our children’s careers but it is their life experiences that will lead them to their vocation. At St. Helen’s College, the children are better informed than most about water, its importance for life and the consequences of water scarcity and contamination. It is a significant part of the Year 5 geography curriculum. The children investigate the processes and infrastructures that get clean water to our homes in the UK and, in partnership with Affinity Water, they undertake a STEM water pipe engineering challenge. They look at water pollution case studies to understand how the environment can become damaged and they look for ways to save water in their daily lives. They learn about parts of the world where clean water is scarce and the impact that this has on the communities and particularly the children. Please discuss saving water with your children and visit the Water Saving Week website. If they would like to write a poem or create a poster about water we will submit it to Waterwise and we may even win a prize. You may also want to look at World Water Day and the main Waterwise website. Mr. Lewis
Posted on: 9/03/2018

Head's Blog - Child Welfare (by Mrs. Smith)

The Oxford English Dictionary offers two definitions of the word ‘welfare’: ‘Statutory procedure or social effort designed to promote the basic physical and material well-being of people in need’. ‘The health, happiness and fortunes of a person or group’. Thankfully, we live in a country where much is made of the need to look after ‘child welfare’ by the government, by charities and by the press. There are, necessarily, guidelines issued to ensure that families, schools and other services make sure that the ‘basic physical and material well-being’ needs of children are met. There are objective measures which can be taken to check that this is happening and it is certainly happening here at St. Helen’s College. However, the second definition of welfare is equally interesting. How do we, as a school, know whether we are doing well at looking after the ‘happiness and fortunes of a person or group’?  Today I saw a very sweet interaction on the steps outside of my office window at morning break time. There were five girls altogether, and one girl did not have a snack with her today. Two of her friends immediately offered to share their snacks with her, and the other two quickly followed suit. However, one then pointed out that they perhaps should not do this, in case the first girl had any allergies or wasn’t allowed to eat what the others had brought. A brief discussion ensued, before the first girl and one of her friends decided that they would visit the school office to let staff know that she was snack-less, and rather hungry. Interested to see the outcome of this little vignette, I popped into the office in time to see the conversation between the girls and Miss Lang, our Welfare Officer. Miss Lang sympathised with the child who had forgotten her snack, and thanked her friend for accompanying her to the office. Having checked the child’s dietary requirements, Miss Lang then offered her a choice of the banana she had brought in for her own mid-morning snack, or a plain biscuit from the ‘staff stash’. The girl chose the banana, thanked Miss Lang and went away happy. This story typifies, for me, what ‘welfare’ is about at St. Helen’s College. It is not just about the meeting of basic needs. It is about kindness, empathy and working together to ensure that children feel included, valued and loved. In another school, the girl might just have got through the morning without a snack. No permanent damage would have been done and her ‘basic physical well-being’ would not have been compromised. But here at St. Helen’s College, her welfare was actively promoted by her friends and by the staff. They imagined how she might feel at being the only one without a snack (hungry, a bit left out, a bit forgotten) and they worked hard to make sure that she did not feel those things. I feel sure that, if she were to forget her snack again, the same thing would happen. I think that Miss Lang would probably also telephone her parents to remind them, kindly, to help her to remember her snack in future – after all, Miss Lang’s personal fruit supply can only stretch so far! This is at the heart of what makes St. Helen’s College a special place. Everyone in our ‘family’ looks out for each other; everyone is prepared to go that extra mile, sharing what they have and helping others to feel safe and cared for. We don’t just meet the ‘basic physical and material well-being needs’ of our children; by teaching and enacting the school’s values, we help every child to feel involved, looked after and glad to be with us. When a child feels involved, looked after and glad, they instinctively want to help others feel that way too. So they, and we, actively promote ‘the happiness and fortunes’ of our group. Mrs. Smith
Posted on: 2/03/2018

Head's Blog - World Book Day Challenge

What with the ‘Beast from the East’ and ‘Storm Emma’ upon us, you find yourselves with the children at home due to the school closure.  However, I beg parents to read this famous poem by Roald Dahl which was shared with the children in our World Book Day assembly.   Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have every child engaged with activities over the next few days which are not ‘screen’ based but are focussed on ‘books’. Who will take up the gauntlet? Television - Poem by Roald Dahl The most important thing we've learned, So far as children are concerned, Is never, NEVER, NEVER let Them near your television set -- Or better still, just don't install The idiotic thing at all. In almost every house we've been, We've watched them gaping at the screen. They loll and slop and lounge about, And stare until their eyes pop out. (Last week in someone's place we saw A dozen eyeballs on the floor.) They sit and stare and stare and sit Until they're hypnotised by it, Until they're absolutely drunk With all that shocking ghastly junk. Oh yes, we know it keeps them still, They don't climb out the window sill, They never fight or kick or punch, They leave you free to cook the lunch And wash the dishes in the sink -- But did you ever stop to think, To wonder just exactly what This does to your beloved tot? IT ROTS THE SENSE IN THE HEAD! IT KILLS IMAGINATION DEAD! IT CLOGS AND CLUTTERS UP THE MIND! IT MAKES A CHILD SO DULL AND BLIND HE CAN NO LONGER UNDERSTAND A FANTASY, A FAIRYLAND! HIS BRAIN BECOMES AS SOFT AS CHEESE! HIS POWERS OF THINKING RUST AND FREEZE! HE CANNOT THINK -- HE ONLY SEES! 'All right!' you'll cry. 'All right!' you'll say, 'But if we take the set away, What shall we do to entertain Our darling children? Please explain!' We'll answer this by asking you, 'What used the darling ones to do? 'How used they keep themselves contented Before this monster was invented?' Have you forgotten? Don't you know? We'll say it very loud and slow: THEY ... USED ... TO ... READ! They'd READ and READ, AND READ and READ, and then proceed To READ some more. Great Scott! Gadzooks! One half their lives was reading books! The nursery shelves held books galore! Books cluttered up the nursery floor! And in the bedroom, by the bed, More books were waiting to be read! Such wondrous, fine, fantastic tales Of dragons, gypsies, queens, and whales And treasure isles, and distant shores Where smugglers rowed with muffled oars, And pirates wearing purple pants, And sailing ships and elephants, And cannibals crouching 'round the pot, Stirring away at something hot. (It smells so good, what can it be? Good gracious, it's Penelope.) The younger ones had Beatrix Potter With Mr. Tod, the dirty rotter, And Squirrel Nutkin, Pigling Bland, And Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle and- Just How The Camel Got His Hump, And How the Monkey Lost His Rump, And Mr. Toad, and bless my soul, There's Mr. Rat and Mr. Mole- Oh, books, what books they used to know, Those children living long ago! So please, oh please, we beg, we pray, Go throw your TV set away, And in its place you can install A lovely bookshelf on the wall. Then fill the shelves with lots of books, Ignoring all the dirty looks, The screams and yells, the bites and kicks, And children hitting you with sticks- Fear not, because we promise you That, in about a week or two Of having nothing else to do, They'll now begin to feel the need Of having something to read. And once they start -- oh boy, oh boy! You watch the slowly growing joy That fills their hearts. They'll grow so keen They'll wonder what they'd ever seen In that ridiculous machine, That nauseating, foul, unclean, Repulsive television screen! And later, each and every kid Will love you more for what you did. MommyPoppins website has some other super ideas for you too! https://mommypoppins.com/kids/snow-day-boredom-busters-40-indoor-activities-when-the-kids-are-stuck-at-home We look forward to Monday when normal school routines will hopefully be resumed.  I am sure that the first few days of March 2018 will be memorable to us all. Mrs. Drummond
Posted on: 23/02/2018

Head's Blog - Desire to Aspire

    Over the half term holidays I spent time with family and catching up with friends and enjoyed reminiscing about school days.   I have also been reading some delightful blogs from fellow educators who have written about who their Heros or Sheros are. What has struck me is the number of us who have been so influenced by the teachers who taught us, but have not quite realised this until much later on in our lives when we reflect on the influential people who helped shape who we are. Of course  families are big part of this too but for many of us the teachers who we have engaged with throughout our lives have been a massive influence. I am sure you will also have your Hero or Shero from your school days? At St. Helen’s College we have such inspirational teachers who will bring out the best in your children, ignite their awe and wonder in the world and challenge them to step out of their comfort zone to try new things. We encourage children to ask questions and give them an out of the box experience - the more hands on we can make our curriculum the more the children will remember, engage and enjoy.  As teachers we need to inspire our children for them to have the desire to aspire! On Saturday I attended the Chartered College of Teachers annual conference in London and met and listened to some inspirational educators.  One of the women who has left an impression on me was Dr. Maggie Aderin-Pocock MBE.  Maggie attended 13 different schools growing up and she was diagnosed with dyslexia. Her family were not affluent but they were engaged with their daughter’s education and allowed her to follow her dreams.   Sadly when Maggie told a teacher that her dream was to be an astronaut she was told to consider nursing as that was scientific too! Thankfully that would not happen here! Dr. Maggie is currently a Space Optical Instrumentation Manager, who designs many space instruments, and she has been involved in developing the Gemini telescope and the James Webb telescope. She also presents ‘The Sky at Night’ and, as a young child, she was fixated with the Clangers (particularly the Soup Dragon!) Listening to Maggie and discussing with other teachers after the event, I felt so proud of the curriculum we offer our pupils and the expertise of the staff we have on board. We also have our very own ‘scientist’ at school, Ms Gilham, whose career as a scientist started at the Medical Research Council based at the University of Sussex where she graduated with a BSc in Biology. As a cellular biologist for MRC, she joined a group to study the effects of the oil spill disaster in the Shetlands in the 90s, and also got involved in the study of skin cells from patients who had a genetic predisposition to skin cancers and how radiation affected their ability to repair their DNA.   Although research is such a dynamic and exciting field, the teaching profession has many benefits as a career. Moreover, she thought that it was more rewarding to teach people on a daily basis than to be pippeting microlitre amounts of chemicals in a test tube or growing skin cells in a petri dish! Ms Gilham then trained as a secondary science teacher and gained her teaching status, but realised that the year groups were all wrong. At this point, research summoned yet again and she worked at Brunel University, joining a group to study how skin cells get transformed to immortalised cells. This work was part of a study to help understand how mutations occur that might lead to the formation of skin cancer cells. It was an exciting job as skills involved the use of cellular biology techniques as well as molecular biology where genes relating to the regulation of cell growth were studied. Not many primary science teachers can say that they could sequence a gene! Ms Gilham’s passion for science and the benefits of research were her drive in the ten years she was in research. It is the same passion and love of science, plus the idea of inspiring children to become future scientists, that now keeps Ms Gilham in the teaching profession where she finally has found her niche in the primary classroom. Ms Gilham chose teaching over the opportunity to do her PhD! She absolutely loves the way children respond to her whenever they do experiments every single day in their science lessons. It is not only in Science but across the curriculum and throughout the school day, from Ducklings Kindergarten through the EYFS and up to Upper School, that all of our staff inspire your children with a three-pronged attack: they are great role models, they keep learning relevant and they continue to challenge and questions the children to heighten that sense of wonder about the world. Teaching is the most important profession in the world and it is a privilege to be part of this unique vocational profession.   This was recognised just this week by Sir Ridley Scott  when he gave an emotional speech on the night he received his Bafta Fellowship. The legendary filmmaker received a standing ovation from an audience full of stars of the silver screen. During his eight-minute speech, the 80-year-old also said he believed teaching was “the most important of all professions”. He said: “Sort that out and social problems will get sorted out. It sounds simple but we’ve been talking about it for years and it’s absolutely vital. My teachers inspired me.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eV_c6fjf4Ec&feature=youtu.be  (Sir Ridley Scott) https://www.theguardian.com/membership/video/2014/oct/15/space-scientist-maggie-aderin-pocock-power-dreams-video  (Maggie Aderin Pocock) Mrs. Drummond    
Posted on: 9/02/2018

Head's Blog - Pride

  I can hardly believe that we are at half term already and it is with a great sense of pride that I reflect on the beginning of 2018: Joyous January and Forte February! I always feel that it is important to enter the New Year feeling joyous about the year ahead and looking forward to what it will bring. Despite the joy of Christmas being over and in spite of the darkness surrounding us early in the morning and early in the evening we must remain joyful! February is upon us already -  Forte February - forte meaning ‘strength’ or ‘talent’ and a measure of mindset and attitude over ego and a lack of awareness. (I revisit this from last year!) It is in ‘Forte February’ that we should recognise the talents and strengths of everyone we spend time with, children and adults, celebrate abilities and gifts, take time for self-care and promote well-being.   In your children we have had so much to celebrate this half term; it has been an action packed half term with the children giving so much of themselves to their studies but also to the enriched co-curriculum programme of activities we offer here at St. Helen’s College. I am not about to list all the wonderful achievements of our pupils - the weekly newsletter, class blogs and photo galleries are testament to what an amazing community we have! We encourage the children to promote their own talents and to be able to do this without ‘showing off’ can sometimes be a challenge. They all have that inner strength to celebrate and we are developing this ability in every single pupil. Self-esteem, resilience, strength of character and a positive sense of self is something to promote and be proud of.   So this half term do take time with your family to be PROUD of your children but also to be proud of what every member of your family has achieved.  Below are a few synonyms to start the conversations! I am pleased with….I am glad that...I am happy with...I am delighted with... synonyms: pleased (with), glad (about/at), happy (about/at/with), delighted (about/at/with), joyful (at), overjoyed (at/over), thrilled (at/about/by/with), well pleased (with), satisfied (with), gratified (at), content (at), appreciative (of)   Have a wonderful half term holiday and thank you to everyone - pupils, parents and staff - for such a great first half term of 2018! Mrs. Drummond
Posted on: 2/02/2018

Head's Blog - Reporting To Parents

Having worked in a range of schools prior to taking up the Headship of St. Helen’s College, I have been privy to a wide range of reporting methods. As a parent myself I always looked forward to my daughter’s Parents’ Evenings and to the report card coming home from school. She herself attended three different schools and they all reported to parents in different ways.  As parents, we all want to know that our precious ones are happy at school, developing their interpersonal skills and making good friendships and of course making progress in their subjects. Parents also want to know how we can support our children’s learning and personal development at home. Parents’ Evenings are one of the ways in which we report to our parents and we are aware that time restriction is a factor at these evenings. Teachers and parents alike could spend hours discussing a child’s learning thus this is why we have an open door policy and our staff are happy to meet with parents if they have a query regarding their child’s progress at any time - not just in the designated Parents’ Evening slot! Report cards are another way in which we are able to communicate with parents regarding your children’s learning.  I am sure that you all expect the report to be informative about how your child is progressing, not only academically but as an individual person in their own right and how you may be able to support your child at home. At St. Helen’s College, we pride ourselves on our school aims: Love of Learning To nurture a love of learning, and to develop fully every child’s academic potential. Through challenging, stimulating and creative teaching we aim to nurture the ability to think critically, creatively and flexibly, to work both independently and collaboratively, to be self-motivated and to persevere, and thereby to achieve high levels of scholarship while developing a lifelong love of learning. Outward Development To encourage all children to discover and develop their own excellence by participating in the widest range of challenging activities. We aim to encourage exploration, discover talent, nurture interest, and inspire achievement across the full range of creative, aesthetic, sporting and academic domains. We place great emphasis on activities which bring out the best in children. Inward Development To instil traditional Christian values and to nurture strength of character, so that the children will be ready to face, with integrity and confidence, the many challenges of adult life. We aim to instil core Christian values, to teach mindful self-awareness, to inspire virtue, confidence, imagination and versatility, and thereby to nurture confident, compassionate, creative, communicative, self-aware, adaptable citizens and leaders of the future. It is with this in mind that it is important that your children understand the ‘Habits of Learning’ which they need to develop in order to be a successful learner and flourish as an individual, ready for their journey through life. We encourage our pupils to develop the following habits in all that they do at school: To be organised and prepared for the day, for each lesson and for each activity they do To be able to work independently in their tasks without always seeking adult support or reassurance (including homework) To be able to collaborate with both their peers and adults in class and out of lessons To take initiative in their learning, think for themselves without waiting to be prompted, seize opportunities and be resourceful by having the ability to find quick and clever ways to overcome difficulties To have self-discipline - that ability to control one's feelings and overcome one's weaknesses This term, alongside reporting on academic achievement, we will be reporting to parents on your child's 'Habits of Learning'. We hope this will be very insightful and helpful to you and to your children. All teachers who work with your children will be able to comment on these habits and how they are developing in their subject area and the form tutor will then look at the child’s general ‘Habits of Learning’ across all subjects.    I know that if I had been given this type of information about my daughter when she was younger I may have done some things differently with her!  Do remember that your children are often very different at school than at home and the profile that the school has of a child can be quite different from what you see at home. This is why it is so important to establish good communication between home and school! Parent conferences and report cards are such a small part of how we communicate about your children’s journey at St. Helen’s College - so do keep the channels of communication open so that we may all bring out the best for each pupil in our care.
Posted on: 26/01/2018

Head's Blog - Reading

It was wonderful to see so many parents attending our reading information sessions across the school this week. Parental support is key for children’s learning outcomes and your attendance this week speaks volumes. I am sure that  Mr. McLaughlin, Head of English, and Mrs. Hunt, Head of Lower School, have inspired everyone and given you all food for thought. The conversations I had with parents after the meetings were very honest and I am sure reflect the home lives of many modern families. Sadly, the good intentions that many parents have at the start of the academic year can slip as life becomes busy. It is all too easy to end up hearing your child read in the back of the car or in the kitchen while you are multi-tasking, making dinner, checking emails and so on. However, time does need to be allocated to that wonderful experience of sharing your child’s reading book. This is the most important homework that we give the children. The foundation for successful reading and comprehension lies in the early years when children are unlocking that door to the kingdom of learning. 'Learning to Read’ will progress into ‘Reading to Learn’, and the development of secure comprehension skills, in particular, underpins how a child can access the curriculum in all subjects as he or she moves through their educational journey. ‘Book talk’ is enormously important, so please do spend time with your child asking them questions about the book they are reading; this will deepen their understanding and appreciation of the text. I know that Mr. McLaughlin shared some sample question prompts for parents and many of our reading scheme books have superb information for parents on the inside and back covers - please do take a look. Just as importantly, we can be the best role models to our children. Let your children see you reading! Seeing adults using reading as a purposeful activity to further learning or for joy and relaxation will underline to children how worthwhile an activity reading really is. This needs to be continued through your children's teenage years, when too often they feel bombarded with course reading for GCSE and A levels! Do remind them of the joy of reading or even pull out their favourite baby book from years gone by. My 18 year old daughter still enjoys snuggling in bed with me as we share her furry bound book we shared when she was a toddler - reciting the book from cover to cover - it still brings a tear to my eye as we chuckle at the simple story line and repetitive pattern of the book. The joy and emotional bond that reading together creates between children and adults lives forever. When you are out and about, why not have your children read the signs in the supermarket or the road signs? Or you might plan a day out by reading together from the visitor guide at the attraction you are visiting. Many museums, castles and National Trust attractions have their own children’s guides…so do encourage your children to read and plan the day. Not only will they be applying their reading skills but they will be using and developing many other skills such as  mapping skills, telling the time or learning about history - there is a whole world of learning to embrace in your family time outside of school. Many of us have been visiting our local parks for years but have never noticed some of the information boards that have been put in place to inform us about our local surroundings. The National Heritage, RSPB and Wildlife Trust have all invested in wonderful notice boards which children can read and learn from.   Our pupils at St. Helen’s College are fortunate in that there is such a buzz around visiting the libraries both in Lower School and Upper School. The pupils know that libraries are special places and are always excited to visit and seek out new reads and recommendations from their peers. Why not visit other libraries or bookshops with your children outside of school too, so that pupils can share with you the excitement of finding a new and interesting book. Thank you for your support in your children’s learning journey. I hope that our reading evenings have perhaps rekindled your own passion for reading and given you some useful tips on how to support your children in what is the most wonderful (and important) skill to learn and then use! HAPPY READING! Mrs. Drummond

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