School News and Head's Blog
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Posted on: 17/03/2023
Talent Versus Skill
Talent is God gifted ability, whereas skill is an ability in which you put your time and efforts to develop.
It is with this interesting definition of ‘talent’ that I reflect on this week at St. Helen’s College. Many of you with pupils in the Upper School will be aware that the children have been participating in the inaugural House Talent Competition. We have been thoroughly impressed and entertained by all of the pupils who have entered an act to represent their Houses: Caledonia, Cambria, Hibernia or Windsor.
The entries were very varied and as I moved between each house assembly I was fortunate enough to enjoy many superb performances. From Grade 6 pianists to our Grade 1 violinists, singers galore, magic acts, ventriloquism, gymnasts, a church bell ringer, comedy acts, poetry, naming world flags,pieces of artwork…I could continue! What is apparent is that there is such a passion for the children to share their interests, hobbies, skills and talents.
This leads me on to tomorrow when we will host the school’s first Exhibition Day since pre-covid days. We are very excited to showcase our pupils’ work tomorrow and look forward to you all touring the school with your children, reflecting on their accomplishments and looking forward to what lies ahead as you visit the other classrooms and school sites.
Your children have worked so hard all year to develop their skills and talents, not only across the curriculum but in the enriched co-curriculum which we offer. We pride ourselves in both nurturing talent and supporting the development of skill.
The debate surrounding talent versus skill and which might be most important will undoubtedly continue and much has already been written on this topic. However, I believe that there are some key differences between talent and skill:
The term talent refers to an inborn, special ability of a person to do something. A skill is an expertise which is acquired by the person by learning.
Talent is God gifted ability, whereas skill is an ability in which you put your time and efforts to develop.
Talent is often possessed by a limited number of people. On the other hand, any person can learn a particular skill, if (s)he has the capacity, capability, and willingness.
Talent can be hidden which is why it needs recognition. As opposed to Skill, it requires development, which can only be possible through practice.
Coaching may prove helpful in getting the best out of someone i.e. talent. Conversely, training is necessary for acquiring a skill, to put your best into something useful.
You may have your own views and opinions on this and I am linking to an article for those of you who wish to read more on the talent v. skill debate:
Talent Vs Skill:Which Matters More in the Pursuit of Mastery?
You have invested for your child to attend St. Helen’s College and I do hope that one day when they have left school they will look back and remember their school days as the happiest and most memorable days of their lives. The children will not remember ‘how’ they made progress but it is with such a sense of pride and privilege that we are able to support your children to nurture and strengthen their ‘talents’ and assist them in developing their ‘skills’ to enable them to thrive and flourish. Let us celebrate their journey and support them with the high and lows!
I look forward to seeing you all tomorrow to celebrate our wonderful community!
Posted on: 3/03/2023
Do The Little Things In LifeThis week our Kingfishers Reception Class delighted us with their class assembly and it really moved me as our four and five year olds delivered such an important message:
“Do the little things in life.”
The children were celebrating the life of St. David, the Patron Saint of Wales. His last words to his followers came from a sermon he gave before he died on 1st March: 'Be joyful, keep the faith, and do the little things that you have heard and seen me do.’
This is such a simple message and our young pupils at St. Helen’s College simply reminded us of our school values and how it is by doing the little things in life that we can really impact change together.
If everyone lived their daily lives upholding the values which we at St. Helen’s College try so hard to strive for, we would have such a happier world! Your children certainly have strong foundations to enable them to thrive and flourish with the values we as a school and you as families instil: helpfulness, caring, co-operation, courage, kindness, perseverance, friendliness, patience, respect, forgiveness, determination, gratitude and honesty.
The children of Kingfishers also reminded us of our responsibility as global citizens and our eco warriors revisited the simple task of reuse, reduce, recycle.
This weekend as you spend time with your families and friends I hope you will take time to reflect on your life and the little things that give you joy and a sense of well-being. Perhaps go for a walk, notice that spring is in the air and the blossoms are starting to bloom. The crocus bulbs and snowdrops are peeping through. The daffodils are here!
Perhaps put down devices, phones, tablets and instead play a game, read a book, listen to some music….laugh, dance, be joyful!
Let us all do the little things in life!
Posted on: 3/02/2023
Pause for Thought
Every morning as I drive to work I listen to Radio 2’s ‘Pause for Thought’.
On Tuesday morning there was a Scottish minister discussing the kidology of how we present ourselves to people and how we always wish for them to see the shiny best of us, which of course is very natural. Think of a CV, for example: one always puts the best of what one has achieved. However, something really rattled me in his pause for thought - he claimed that he must be the only Scotsman who does not play golf or drink whisky. I found this to be incredibly sexist - why did he not say ‘Scotsperson’! Am I odd in that I am a Scotswoman who plays golf and has been known to enjoy a tipple from my hometown whiskey ‘Oban’.
I jest! He in fact was making a very valid point in that often how we present ourselves to others is perhaps not quite who we really are most of the time. This got me thinking, though, about all the staff who work here at St Helen’s College and how it is often impossible to only present a side of yourself which is the shiny best of us! Your children can detect in an instant when we are ‘faking’ it. Which makes it wonderful to come to work each day knowing that we really are being our true, authentic selves. I would say that of nearly everyone who works in schools with young people. Children themselves are open and honest and say things ‘as it is’, which can often lead to interesting discussions and conversations. But they can also detect when the adults around them are not being authentic and sincere.
Earlier this week, as I toured prospective parents, we talked about adults and our working lives as three Year 2 pupils skipped down the pathway to their music lesson in the Evans Hall greeting us with a cheerful ‘Good Morning!’ The visitors chuckled and commented that they don’t ever remember being so happy when at school. It is testament to the staff at St. Helen’s College that the children are so happy in their learning and daily activities. But it works both ways; the staff are happy to be at work because of the lovely children we work with! When we notice a child is not happy then we will always strive to work with the parents and the child to unravel what may be making them feel this way and look to finding a solution.
We often ‘pause for thought’ here at St. Helen’s College. This morning on yet another prospective parent tour our Ducklings children paused to think about what made their boats float in the water tray - and why some maybe sank! At Lower School the Owls children lay on their backs noticing the bubbles which Mrs. Hunt was blowing and the rise and fall of teddies on their chests as they calmly breathed. Kingfishers children sustained their attention on forming their letters correctly as music soothed them in the background, whilst in Nursery there were numerous questions as the dinosaurs from a Travelling Natural History Museum workshop ignited the children’s curiosity! Year 1 wowed our visitors with their mathematical knowledge and shared their learning on what subtraction was.
At the end of yet another busy week it is so important to ‘pause for thought’. Last night I attended a District meeting with approximately forty fellow Headteachers from other IAPS schools. We had three guest speakers who were all very interesting but as I paused, listened to them and reflected on what we already offer here St. Helen’s College I was modestly so proud of who we are as a community. Our pupils, staff and you as parents - we are authentic, we present ourselves as who we are without boasting and we always strive to be the best versions of who we can be.
So as you enter the weekend in this penultimate week before our half term break do pause for thought and be proud of all that we achieve together as the St. Helen’s College community!
Have a lovely weekend everyone.
Posted on: 27/01/2023
Inspiration by Mrs. SmithWe are all human, and we all get tired and jaded sometimes. I felt like that at the beginning of this week. It had been a busy, exhausting weekend with demands from family, worry about friends and perhaps one too many social events which, while enjoyable, allowed little time for rest.
When I’m tired, I sigh a lot. I noticed that on Sunday night: a constant exhaling, as if I wanted to get all the exhaustion out of myself. I needed filling up with something new. I needed inspiration.
Luckily, I work at St. Helen’s College.
The word inspiration comes from the Latin verb inspirare, meaning to breathe in. It is a taking in of the new, an invigoration. When those of us who practise yoga breathe deeply, we know that we are literally changing the chemical makeup of our bodies. And that’s what inspiration does. It changes you.
I have been inspired in so many ways at St. Helen’s College this week. Speaking to prospective parents who are making that huge decision to accept Ducklings, Nursery or Reception places, I have heard them speak of their deep love for and commitment to their children and their desire to do the very best for the next generation. Their values, their humility and their courage have inspired me.
Seeing Mr. Lewis develop a new IT system for managing our policies at school (alongside his day job), watching him tweak it and instigate a new, more efficient system in support of his colleagues and the school’s processes: this has inspired me.
Watching the staff who led the Year 4 trip to Amersham Field Centre this week, who were determined to put on an enriching and fun experience for the children, then seeing the children return, excited about their learning, enlivened by the day. That was inspiring.
Sitting at my desk and starting to proofread the children’s February reports, I took a deep breath and felt, through their written words, the teachers’ empathy, kindness and real hope for the St. Helen’s College children’s learning and progress. I read about the children’s personal qualities and how they brighten the teachers’ days. I was reminded that being around the children does that to me, too. At the same time, looking out of the window at after school football clubs, I was inspired by the dedication of those who genuinely change a child’s life in only an hour or two a week.
I was so inspired on Thursday when I visited Lower School to watch the 1C class assembly. It was themed around Roald Dahl, who was himself the most inspirational of people: not just an author but a screenwriter, a secret service spy, a wartime aircraft pilot and so much more. He believed that humour and kindness were the keys to life. As I heard the Year 1 children tell his story, I felt a fresh breath of air entering me. They sang ‘Count On Me’ by Bruno Mars as part of their assembly. Listening to them sing, I remembered that my colleagues and I made a video to that song during lockdown as a way of uniting the staff community and reminding the St. Helen’s College children and parents that, although not physically together, we were all together in spirit. I had tears in my eyes as I remembered how inspirational, although difficult, a time those Covid lockdown months were. I witnessed Mr. and Mrs. Crehan and Ms Drummond doing everything they could to lead the school successfully through that time; I saw parents take on homeschooling challenges with grace and patience; I looked after key worker children who understood that their parents were doing crucial work and that was why they were the only ones in school; I watched so many videos that pupils across the year groups made to demonstrate how their learning continued. I saw parents juggle home working, key worker roles and family management and I was so proud to see colleagues pulling together, taking on the strangest and most unfamiliar of roles and challenges. Lockdown was hard: we all saw illness and loss. But it was also an inspirational time, filled with patience, courage and hope.
We have come a long way since lockdown, but I think the important things that we have learnt from it persist. We know how important it is to take joy in the little things, how we must not take each other or our daily lives for granted. We have been reminded, too, of how crucial it is for our wellbeing to continue to inspire ourselves and others by trying new things, by being kind, and by sharing our learning, our happiness and our growth every day.
As I said, I am so lucky to work at St. Helen’s College where everyone strives tirelessly to do these things. I am so grateful to the community that inspires me on a daily basis.
I hope you have an inspirational weekend. I’ll be resting for most of this one!
Posted on: 20/01/2023
Year 5 STEM AmbassadorsAt St. Helen’s College we are always working to ensure that our curriculum is balanced, dynamic, forward-looking and, most of all, memorable and engaging. We guide the children to learn in many different ways and enjoy setting tasks that develop skills across the curriculum so that they may hone knowledge and skills in several subjects at once. STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) is a huge area and one on which we focus in order to prepare our children in the best way for the ever-evolving world ahead of them. We are also careful to embed themes of Climate Change and Sustainability throughout the children’s learning so that they can work to make sure that our world survives for future generations.
We are proud that our pupils learn to work independently from a young age and, while we have a large staff of enthusiastic, specialist teachers who love nothing more than to be involved with the children, we guard against over-reliance on adults in the classroom. One of the ways in which we encourage both independence and teamwork is through requiring children to work collaboratively so that, through discussion and thoughtful teacher facilitation, they may direct their own learning.
Recently, guided by Ms Gilham, our Year 5 children have been working on a project that embodies these philosophies. Ms Gilham explains:
The Year 5 children were set a challenge (from stem.org) to build a flood-proof house on Watu Island. They were required to design their house, build it and pitch their house to the rest of the group at the end of the project.
Their ‘hook’ was a picture of social injustice as one of the many impacts of climate change: a family stuck on a corrugated iron roof with rising flood waters around them. Rising sea levels mean that families from developing countries suffer greatly, losing homes and livelihoods, an injustice caused by CO2 emissions (largely from other parts of the world) which bring about global warming.
In teams, the Year 5 children reflected on this in order to understand the need for building cost-effective, sustainable and flood proof houses. They followed this process as the project went on:
Design And Build - together, we looked at typical houses and how to adapt these into structures that could float. The children undertook a survey of Watu Island, taking into account amenities and location and likelihood of flooding. This brought into play their art and geography skills and enhanced their decision making on matters of practicality.
Testing And Evaluation Of Materials - we considered the suitability of various materials, thinking about their properties including strength and how water proof and flood proof they might be. This required scientific evaluation, prediction and investigation.
Costing The Build - each material was assigned a different cost and the children had a budget to which they had to stick. In order to ‘purchase’ the materials they required to build their house, they needed to practise their maths and learn to make smart decisions on the sustainability of materials, also taking into account the manufacture and transport of those materials.
Reflection On Values Learned - the children thought about their outcomes, including their own contribution to their team’s work and the determination, creativity, decision making and problem solving they had practised and developed.
The project experience highlighted the strengths of each team member and of each team as a collective. Weaknesses were also identified and, through collaboration and problem solving skills, were addressed. This process helped the children to develop skills and knowledge across the STEM subjects.
Testing the children’s completed houses in simulated flood conditions was so much fun! The children watched anxiously to see how their own houses would fare and were encouraging to other teams as their houses attempted to survive flood and cyclone conditions. They then considered why one house turned out to be more flood-proof than another.
The Winning Team!
Here are some examples of the pupils’ learning shown through their reflections, opinions, thoughts and the presentations in which they pitched their houses to their peers. At the end of the process, the children evaluated each presentation, rated the houses based on the four main points and voted for the best house.
Golden Nuggets Presentation
House Test Video
Ali’s what I’ve learnt so far
Final thoughts from Tiya
As a practitioner and as Science Subject Leader, I am always working to develop the science curriculum in a fun and practical-based way as well as to make it challenging for the children. I believe that we achieved these aims in this project. In reviewing the children’s pictures, videos, written work and in conversations with them, it was clear to see that they were engaged and excited learners, that they developed several skills and acquired a lot of important knowledge and that they were able to reflect on their learning in order to use it as a springboard for the future. Like the pupils and like the other teachers here, I too constantly reflect on what happens in the classroom and use what I have learnt to refine and improve my practice.
Thank you, Ms Gilham, for guiding the children through such a well-planned, well-executed, interesting and important project.
For me as Head, what is perhaps most exciting is that this Year 5 project is just a snapshot of the enormous variety of learning opportunities offered to children throughout the school each day. St. Helen’s College is a place filled daily with those ‘lightbulb moments’ where children discover something new about the world and themselves. It is a pleasure and a privilege for the staff here to guide your children’s learning. Do keep asking them each day what they have done, what they have learnt and what they are looking forward to next. Your engagement with their learning will make a huge difference too.
Posted on: 6/01/2023
Does It Add Up?Happy New Year to you all! The children have very excitedly settled back into their learning and the buzz of excitement around the school is tangible!
I am sure that many of you were interested to hear of Rishi Sunak’s proposal that pupils in England will study maths up until the age of 18. Currently pupils in England are only required to study maths up to the age of 16. Mr. Sunak has stated that we need to "reimagine our approach to numeracy".
At St. Helen’s College we pride ourselves on our approach to the teaching of maths and our ‘challenge for all’ mantra encourages all pupils to achieve highly. But what is fundamental in our lessons is that the children really understand number and its application from the concrete models of numbers to being able to apply their knowledge of maths to more abstract problems and to use this knowledge and understanding across other subjects.
Since Mr. Sunak’s announcement there has been much debate about why there are such issues surrounding how maths is taught to children, with some stating that children should be taught more advanced concepts like multiplication and algebra at a younger age. St. Helen’s College pupils are already exposed to such concepts at a young age and it was inspiring to hear from one of our current Year 6 pupils that her favourite subject was maths because she is able to use it across so many other subjects. Our pupils are aware that they will be required to use data and number in a wide variety of situations and to see the benefits of mathematical understanding as they use data analysis skills in their other learning such as science and geography (tables, graphs, charts). Their analytical skills are certainly being developed at an early age.
I am currently preparing some of our Year 6 pupils for their Year 6 senior school interviews and in a group session we discussed Rishi Sunak’s proposal as any changes may affect them post 16. I was so delighted when one of the pupils responded that she thinks that they should continue to study maths after their GCSEs as they will need maths skills in later life; she went on to give me examples such as buying or planning/designing a house, cooking, measuring, converting money if travelling, having a bank account and more.
One of the statistics being reported is that only four in ten children and young people say they have had some financial education at school. This is an aspect of ‘life skills’ which schools (particularly secondary schools) need to address. But as parents we also have a responsibility to start these life skills in financial education at home at a young age. Children need to learn about money and its value and importance for living. Sadly some children rarely have the opportunity to handle money now and some are not aware of how we ‘earn’ money. So if the penny drops that this may be your child (no pun intended), please take the opportunity to ‘play’ with your children - take them shopping, let them earn pocket money in return for doing chores around the house and let them save for something special. Talk to them about what bank accounts are; as they get older they will be more inquisitive and there is so much learning which can be instigated at home. Many banks now give great support for financial education for parents in how to help their children - see the link here from HSBC, for example.
Our children are not set into ability groups for maths unlike at many other schools; I am sure that we can all remember the stigma attached to being in the ‘top set’ or the ‘bottom set’. We believe that it is every child’s right to be exposed to the same advanced maths language and concepts. Many experts have shared their views on ‘setting’ in maths and one of these is educational consultant David Didau - you can read his views here. As the pupils move through Key Stage 2 here at St. Helen’s College they will have already had time to ‘own’ their learning of mathematical concepts via their ‘Learning Logs’. These are instrumental for teachers for their planning and assessment of learning and, ultimately, for the pupils to identify their strengths and areas of mathematical skill and application.
I am very proud of how our pupils are prepared for their lives ahead and have such an awareness of why we teach what we teach and how we teach it. It is so important that school and home empower our children to enjoy maths, to understand why we learn maths and to give them opportunities to use their mathematical skills and knowledge not only in their other subjects in school but in their everyday lives.
Posted on: 2/12/2022
Diversity, Equality and InclusionDiversity is about recognising, respecting and celebrating difference. It’s acknowledging the benefit of having a range of perspectives in decision-making and the workforce being representative of the communities that the School serves.
Equality means that everyone is treated the same, is treated fairly and has the same opportunities. Equity is slightly different from equality in that it recognises that each person has different circumstances. This means that varying types or levels of support might be required, depending on individual need, to take full advantage of equal opportunities.
Inclusion is where people’s differences are valued and used to enable everyone to thrive at work. An inclusive working/learning environment is one in which everyone feels that they belong without having to conform, that their contribution matters and they are able to perform to their full potential, no matter their background, identity or circumstances.
We are very proud here at St. Helen’s College to have such a diverse and inclusive community. This week we celebrated the start of the Christian celebration of Advent and the pupils have been very excited for the beginning of this special time of year. It has been clear in Upper School assemblies that they are also very aware of the ‘true’ meaning of Christmas and not just obsessed with the commercial aspect of receiving presents on Christmas Day or daily chocolates in their advent calendar.
Our Lower School pupils have given us so much joy already this week with their Year 1 and Reception Nativity Assemblies. Each child owned their part and they have certainly understood and communicated the Christmas story and traditions of Christmas.
Jeremy Vine’s radio show this week had a discussion piece on how many primary schools were becoming non-religious and the decline in the number of schools with Christian principles. I was interested to listen to the discussion but felt such a sense of pride in St. Helen’s College’s approach. We are so inclusive of all religions but retain our strong school values rooted in Christian principles. As parents you all support this and I hope that you also feel that your faiths and religions are included in our school life and recognised in many ways.
Religious beliefs are only one aspect of Diversity, Equality and Inclusion (DEI). Only a couple of weeks ago Mrs. Briggs, our DEI aspect lead, presented to our Education Committee all the wonderful activities and work going on here at school to ensure that we are fulfilling our responsibilities. We are always learning about each other and we have a vibrant and supportive staff, parent and pupil body.
Throughout the school our staff plan lessons and activities within and outside of the curriculum which take the following aspects into account.
Race and diversity.
All of these opportunities allow the children to be prepared for their futures in order for them to contribute to society as well rounded, kind and empathetic individuals.
I am sure that many of you were aware of the sad news that Doddie Weir, who suffered from Motor Neurone disease, died earlier this week. Tonight Rob Burrows, who also has MND, will be the first non-verbal person to read the bedtime story on CBBC using special technology. I urge you to watch this with your children tonight if possible (the link is here). This is another chance to open up discussions about how we are all different and to encourage acceptance of this fact.
Pupils in Upper School recently met Mrs. Briggs' cousin, Jamie Beddard, who has cerebral palsy, in an assembly. I am sure that many of your children spoke to you about this inspirational gentleman who has not allowed his disability to stop him in his acting and directing career. Indeed, his disability has also opened up many other opportunities for him to bring about change.
There is so much for us all to learn and share on DEI but I will end my blog with a quote from the late Doddie Weir from 2019 when he was awarded the Sports Personality of the Year.
“Enjoy the day because you don't know what happens tomorrow.”
Happy weekend everyone!
Posted on: 18/11/2022
Do We Ever Stop Learning?This week we have a guest blog from our Head of Art, Nadine Pruce, who reflects on the importance of being a lifelong learner.
During lockdown I stumbled upon the amazing work of Darrell Wakelam and have followed him on both Instagram and Twitter ever since.
Darrell spent the first thirteen years of his career as the Art Tutor at Ingestre Hall Residential Arts Centre in Staffordshire before moving down to Dorset to set up his business ‘Jekyll & Hyde’ in 2005. Since then, he has provided art workshops and training sessions for hundreds of different organisations including many primary and secondary schools.
As part of my subject leader role for IAPS, I invite an artist to host a workshop for art teachers who are part of the IAPS organisation. This gave me the perfect opportunity to meet him! I sent him an invitation and he responded straight away with a resounding yes; he would love to come and show us how to do what he does.
So on Thursday this week, he came to St. Helen's College along with a dozen art teachers from around the country and we were set to work. The delighted squeals and laughter emitting form the art room would have had you thinking it was a class of children, not grown adults!
Continuous learning is essential to our existence. Just like food nourishes our bodies, ongoing discovery nourishes our minds. Lifelong learning is crucial for every career and organisation. From a simple, fun day with an expert in his field, a dozen art teachers skipped off into the sunset bursting with new ideas and plans of how to include our learning in our student’s lessons. Watch out…next term I will be mainly using cardboard!
'Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.'
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Category / Head's Blog