School News and Head's Blog
Posted on: 7/12/2018
Head's Blog - Christmas by Mrs. SmithWhatever your religious beliefs, Christmas is such a huge part of British culture that it’s almost impossible not to take part. It is most special as an opportunity to spend quality time with family and friends and to reflect upon how lucky we are to have so much love and warmth in our lives.
Your children have worked very hard at school this term; they have had to adapt to new year groups, routines and academic demands. They have completed a lot of learning, inside and outside of the classroom, and have stretched themselves intellectually. They have made new friends, established relationships with staff members they hadn’t come across previously and embraced new, interesting and challenging concepts at every turn. They have been busy outside of the classroom too, taking part in co-curricular clubs, playing sports and games, learning musical instruments and giving performances. So we hope that Christmas will be a time of rest and relaxation for them and for you, too. In the hope that you will have the chance to spend some quality time together, I would like to share with you some suggestions for things to do together which should help to make the most of your Christmas family time, while keeping your children’s intellectual and creative curiosity alive. You may already have planned to include some or all of these into your Christmas holiday – I hope so!
Visit some Christmas lights
The UK lights up at Christmas and it can be a magical, peaceful experience to visit Christmas lights. You might like to visit ‘Kew at Christmas’, the Enchanted Woodland at Syon Park, London’s South Bank or the Oxford Street/Regent Street lights. Or you might simply walk around your own neighbourhood, appreciating the effort your neighbours have put into lighting up the world! Why not get creative and make Christmas lights pictures back at home afterwards, using paints or colouring materials, glitter, sequins or anything else you can find.
Help your children to buy Christmas presents
It is lovely for young children to experience the joy of thinking of others and giving gifts, and to learn to budget, by choosing Christmas presents for their family. You could give your child a small budget and help them to divide it up into a budget amount per recipient, and then to work out how much they will spend in total and how much change to expect. Help them to wrap their own gifts and write their own gift tags (don’t worry if they don’t look perfect!) – wrapping can be a tricky skill to master and doing it for themselves will help children to develop their fine motor skills, as well as being such a happy and loving experience. They might even like to make their own wrapping paper by stamping plain paper with Christmas shapes, or drawing a pattern.
Write thank you letters
It can be tempting nowadays to send emails, texts or messages on social media to thank family members for presents. But if you encourage your children to sit down and write thank you notes/letters by hand for any gifts they receive, you are helping them to develop their handwriting, their English and communication skills and their presentation skills. I still remember the ‘formula’ my mother taught me for thank you letters:
1. Thank the person for the gift and tell them why you love it/what you will be doing with it.
2. Tell them what a lovely Christmas/birthday/event you had and what made it special.
3. Express your wish that they have also been having a great time and that you will see them again soon.
Being able to plan a letter or simple piece of writing is a great skill and writing thank you letters is a great way to practise! As children grow older, their letters can become longer and more sophisticated.
Bake Christmas goodies together
Gingerbread, Christmas cookies, mince pies, sausage rolls, trifle….there are many, many treats to make at this time of year and cooking them together can be great fun! Weighing and measuring skills, creativity/artistic skills, practising telling the time and working out how much time is left, fine motor skills…all of these are developed during baking. And if you pop on some Christmas music while you bake, you can have a sing song together too (or maybe even encourage your children to practise their recorder or other instrument while the baked goods are in the oven!). Your children might like to write out recipes or create a homemade recipe booklet, practising their handwriting, spelling and creative skills. You could even gift baked goods, with handwritten recipes, to friends or neighbours (see below). If you haven't yet tried making 'stained glass' biscuits, which involve melting a boiled sweet into a cookie, why not try those this year - there's a recipe here and these look brilliant hung on the Christmas tree!
By giving your time selflessly to help others, you can show your children the true meaning of Christmas. You could offer to volunteer with a charity, or perhaps take an hour one morning, with your children, to go through your kitchen cupboards and take out a few items to donate to your local Foodbank. There are collection points now in many major supermarkets, or you can find details of your local Foodbank online. If you have an elderly neighbour, why not knock on their door and ask them if they need any assistance with shopping, cooking, decorating etc. in the run up to Christmas. Small acts of selfless service can be incredibly meaningful and rewarding.
Play board games, Charades etc.
Board games are the perfect way for a family to spend time together. There are many superb family board games available; my favourites are the traditional ones like Snakes and Ladders, Frustration, Monopoly (and there is an excellent card version, Monopoly deal) and Cluedo, all of which develop counting/maths skills, gameplay and critical thinking skills. There is a really wide choice of games on the market for all ages and many are educational as well as fun. If your children enjoy puzzles, Christmas is a perfect time to do a really big one together as a family. Charades is another great family game to play at Christmas. You don’t even really need to buy a game. Just think of songs, films, books, plays and television shows that all of the family will know, and write them on pieces of paper. Stick them in a hat and take it in turns to mime them to each other without speaking.
‘Twas The Night Before Christmas
If you do one thing with your children this Christmas, I urge you to read them ‘'TwasThe Night Before Christmas’, a traditional poem about St. Nicholas visiting a home to fill stockings with gifts. This poem, suitable for children of all ages, is responsible for many of our modern day ideas about Santa Claus and Christmas gift-giving.
If you have older children who already know ‘The Night Before Christmas’, you might like to read them Carol Ann Duffy’s superb modern re-imagining of the poem, ‘Another Night Before Christmas’.
Reading together is the most important thing you can do with your child. We hope you will read to them and with them every day over the Christmas holidays, and that they will see you reading lots of books/newspapers/magazines/journals too. Do pop a few books on those Christmas lists, if you haven’t already.
Merry Christmas one and all!
Posted on: 30/11/2018
Head's Blog - Reclaiming The Inner YouA couple of weekends ago, I took time out to spend quality time with a group of female friends with whom I had found myself losing touch over the years. We rented a beautiful house in the Cotswolds and spent two days indulging in each other’s companionship. It had been about six years since we were all together last without husbands and children, so we had much catching up to do...but what I had not bargained for was that I would be leading Mindfulness meditation sessions throughout the weekend and that we would end the weekend writing notes of gratitude to each other which were then shared at breakfast on Sunday as we prepared to return home.
Time, as we all know, flies by and it really saddened us all that we had allowed so much time to pass without making time for each other; yes, we had all seen each other over the years, but always at busy occasions surrounded by so many other people and our conversations had mainly centred on our families.
We all have very different careers, ranging from successful Global Director at a well known IT company to pharmacist, senior recruitment manager, nurse…but what was most surprising to me was that all these female friends, except myself, were currently not working….they had removed themselves from the treadmill of the work place to reflect on their lives, regain some balance and give more time to themselves and family. They are very fortunate that they find themselves in this position and all are grateful that they are able to do so. It is not often that I am told to sit down, relax and dinner will be prepared (never, in fact - although the fact that I also had a raging temperature and horrendous cold coming on did help)!
Over the course of the weekend we discussed our children (ranging from 7 to 20 years old); we all wished that we had been given that ‘parenting handbook’ that someone will make a fortune from when it is published! Parenting is definitely the most rewarding, challenging and important ‘career’ that we all have, and one that you really cannot step away from (except for that well deserved you time!). Schooling was also a key talking point and I am always very mindful when amongst friends that I do not to get on my soap box about education. Each of our nine children had attended independent schools either for their primary or secondary years and our experiences were all very different. None of the schools were offering what we offer at St. Helen’s College in terms of the balance of instilling that love of learning alongside outward and inward development - striving for academic excellence but also valuing personal development to the extent that we do. Mindfulness, Positive Psychology and P4C were new terms to them when talking about the education of young children; work places and universities offered such aspects of life learning, but not a Prep school curriculum! (Yes, I felt very proud of our school community!)
To spend such quality time with close friends, nourishing our souls with laughter, compassion and empathy, was just wonderful. We did nothing over the weekend (a visit to the local village for coffee was the most energetic activity!), but the time relaxing back at the house was the ‘therapy’ we all craved.
I came away not only with rekindled friendships and appreciation of my friends but with both a book and music recommendation that I will share with you.
The book is ‘59 seconds’ by Richard Wiseman: ‘At last, a self-help book that is based on proper research. Perfect for busy, curious, smart people’. Some great chapters on ‘Parenting’, ‘Relationships’, ‘Motivation’. Easy to read...thought provoking.
My music takeaway, some of your children have already shared in assemblies: ‘Einaudi - Waves’ the piano collection...beautiful!
The biggest takeaway though for me personally is something which I am sure many of us need to embrace...remember who we are...not the mother, father, wife, husband, engineer, lawyer, doctor, teacher….it is only by giving yourself time to reclaim the inner ‘you’ that ‘you’ can give the best of yourself to your family and your career.
Have a great weekend!
Posted on: 23/11/2018
Head's Blog - Read All About It!I was saddened this week to hear from my author friend Jacqueline Harvey that, whilst on her current book tour, when she asked 300 assembled children how many of them enjoyed that special time each day when their teachers read to them, the children were somewhat bemused by this. One little boy went on to tell her that the teacher would often put a story on the interactive whiteboard and they read it to themselves… I am sure that the Head Teacher of this school was on their knees in dismay at this.
I am proud to report that reading is very much alive at St. Helen’s College and reading for pleasure is celebrated right from our Ducklings through to Year 6. But, oddly enough, I am still very much dismayed when I speak to many of our children around the school about their experiences of reading at home.
I know this may be a very generic sweeping statement, and I apologise to those of you who do engage with your children on a daily basis with their reading, but more and more schools are finding that reading is being neglected at home. Parents are either too busy to hear their child read or it is the last aspect of homework to be addressed and thus the book stays in the bag. I urge you all to rethink if you find yourself hearing your child read whilst you are driving them to school, or hear yourself say, ‘I’m too busy at the moment - read to me while I prepare dinner,’ or even worse, ‘get on with something else, I haven’t got time’.
Last year Mr. McLaughlin arranged superb reading sessions for parents throughout the school, encouraging you all to embrace ‘reading for pleasure’ and to ‘get caught reading by your children’. I am now asking all parents to make a pledge within their families that reading with your child takes top priority. Whether it is you hearing them read, sharing a book with them or just generally showing an interest in the book which they are currently reading - we need to ‘Big Up’ reading!
Reading unlocks learning, creativity, imagination and critical thinking and if we do not have inspired, inquisitive, curious children then we are failing in our duty as teachers and parents.
Having spent time analysing our own assessment results over the course of several years, we know that the best indicators for success in 11+ examinations are good reading and comprehension skills.
Children need to ‘hear’ a story being read to them, to hear how language enriches their experiences and sparks that awe and wisdom in whatever genre of story that is being shared with them. It is the one time as an adult that you need to set aside any inhibitions, become a budding actor and engage with the texts to draw your child in.
The majority of our children learn how to read through a balance of our phonic based teaching and comprehension strategies; they learn the phonetic alphabet (https://phonicsinternational.com) - all 44 phonemes - the sounds which can be made with the letters of our alphabet and all the variations. They begin to be able to decode, recognising the graphemes, sounding out and blending for reading. Teaching comprehension sits alongside this e.g. when children infer the meaning from the context, they summarise the main points from a text, develop questioning strategies etc.
However, school cannot do this in isolation and home plays a massive part in this. It is for pupils aged 8+ that I am the most concerned (Years 3 upwards). At this stage, parents tend to wave the flag - ’Yeah! My child can read now!’...well, that is just the beginning! Your child now needs to enrich their reading skills and be exposed to a wide range of texts to develop their reading and comprehension skills.
ALL children should be reading every night either to an adult or sharing a text with an adult, or discussing what they have been reading with an adult.
If you do have a reluctant reader, please let your form teacher know - we need to engage every child with reading. It is the crux of all learning and home and school must work together to create avid learners. Sadly, children will never become avid learners if they are reluctant to use their reading skills. Which is why we ask parents to put reading to the top of the homework list.
Please see below an extract from our ‘Homework Policy’. Please note that much of the homework expectation the whole way through the school is for adults to spend time reading to/with/hearing your child.
Weekdays during term:
Reception: 10 minutes per evening
Year 1: 15 minutes per evening
Year 2: 15 minutes per evening
Year 3: 20 minutes reading + 20 minutes homework task(s)
Year 4: 20 minutes reading + 30 minutes homework task(s)
Year 5: 20 minutes reading + 30 minutes homework task(s)
Year 6: 20 minutes reading + 40 minutes homework task(s)
Please note that 20 minutes is a minimum reading time, not a maximum!
I urge you all as parents to review your family homework habits and to prioritise reading - it is key to all learning.
Posted on: 16/11/2018
Head's Blog - HeadspaceMany of you may already know what ‘Headspace’ is but for those of you who do not, I would recommend that you take a look at it.
Headspace is a wonderful tool to help with stress; it is a guided mindfulness app, which offers a variety of quick mindfulness sessions to help with anything from sleep to sport.
The app is appropriate for both children and adults. I am aware that some of our children already use a mindfulness app as part of their daily routines and I am convinced of the benefits that it brings them.
I am currently offering a 'Mindful Moments' club at lunchtime for pupils in Years 5 and 6. This is a drop in club; the pupils do not need to attend every week but if they feel they need a little bit of ‘headspace’ they can come along. We revisit some of the mindfulness practices they have already been taught in their mindfulness sessions in Year 4 and explore other ways of helping them to find that inner peace and calm, each time bringing their thoughts back to their breathing.
Throughout the school, from Ducklings to Year 6, children are experiencing moments of silence and calmness and are beginning to allow themselves to embrace this special time. Even as adults, we often forget how nourishing a few moments of silence and calm can be in our VERY busy lives.
Only last week I had a conversation with some parents who had spent half term in India and had stepped back from their busy lives to appreciate calm and the beauty of our environment. Adapting back to the reality of North London living after time away can be quite a shock! It really is important to be aware of how we can support our children and ourselves by making time for quality ‘headspace’.
I look forward to starting my 'Paws b' Mindfulness course with Year 4 this year and to developing Mindfulness practice and understanding with Year 6 in lesson time too. In support of our Mindfulness work at school, and whatever the age of your child, I urge you to extend your own and your children's awareness of, and engagement with, Mindfulness practice by downloading the Headspace app and using it regularly!
Posted on: 2/11/2018
Head's Blog - Flipping Fantastic!Every day I am in awe of how engaged our pupils are with their learning and how they strive to take their learning beyond school, but this week I feel the need to share a particular example of this!
As the pupils go through the school, the learning that we expect the pupils to do at home has a different emphasis; the children are introduced to ‘Flipped Learning’.
Flipped Learning inverts the traditional classroom model by introducing concepts before class, allowing teachers to use class time to guide each student through active, practical, innovative applications of the principles. The teacher provides resources such as videos so that the core concepts may be covered by the children at their own pace before the lesson. A quick quiz or other feedback from the children informs the teacher of their level of understanding so that the appropriate level of support for each child can be provided in class. Time previously spent addressing the whole class is spent supporting individuals as they solidify what they have learnt, test their comprehension and master the content.
This method of home learning ensures that pupils are able to demonstrate their knowledge and understanding of a subject but also that they are extending their learning skills of critical thinking, collaboration, communication and perseverance with a greater depth of responsibility.
Our Year 6 pupils were recently asked to choose their own way of helping other children understand one of the topics that they had learnt. They produced a range of interesting presentations that could be used for Flipped Learning. Some children chose to develop their presentations over the holidays. One produced his own animated video explaining the order of operations in maths. Please follow this link to watch his video. Thomas has not only used his IT skills but demonstrated his understanding of algebra using his creativity and with a superb sense of humour!
This is a prime of example of how our pupils are engaged and inspired by learning and I know that in the very near future Thomas is also hoping to take part in a masterclass on movie making with the iPad, including green screen, run by external provider https://www.tomorrowsachievers.co.uk/. Do take a look at this website as there are so many wonderful opportunities for our pupils to participate in at weekends and holidays.
Mr. Lewis, who is the leading force on ‘Flipped Learning’, will be sharing more on its uses and how our pupils are being encouraged to embrace Flipped Learning, not only for school home learning, but also for how it can inspire them beyond the classroom...but that is for a future blog!
Posted on: 5/10/2018
Head's Blog - Reflections on the Heads' ConferenceLast week I had the privilege of joining with 400 other Independent School Heads from all over the UK and overseas at the annual Head’s Conference. I spent three full days listening to interesting and thought-provoking speakers and having the opportunity to network with fellow Heads to discuss and share our expertise and experiences.
I must admit that on several occasions I did sit back and smile (I hope not too smugly) as some of the speakers highlighted key aspects for improving the education of young people and I reflected that, at St. Helen's College, we are already doing these things very well...
Harriet Marshall - Building a sustainable future and global citizenship for our children by promoting the United Nations Global Goals. This is our third year in supporting this at school and only on Tuesday of last week we revisited this with the launch of ‘The World’s Greatest Lesson’ in Upper School assembly.
Dr. Ruth Graham - Discussing future engineers in our school and promoting STEAM. Didn’t we just have our STEAM Day two weeks ago!
Julie Robinson - The importance of partnerships between the independent sector and state schools. We have numerous partnerships already in place, not only for pupils' benefit but also for staff professional development.
Chris Jeffrey - Developing and embedding a culture of wellbeing through mindfulness, positive psychology, time to talk, starting with the why and being human first…. Chris was 'preaching to the converted' here - in fact, we were one of the first schools to introduce these tools for ensuring the wellbeing of our children.
Lucy Crehan (yes, Mr. and Mrs. Crehan’s daughter Lucy was one of our keynote closing speakers!) - Discussing her book Cleverlands, Lucy looked at what the top performing schools around the world are doing and how this could impact our practice, including removing setting from subjects, deploying resources effectively and less one to one support which has very little evidential impact from research. At St. Helen's College, we began to implement these recommendations very early indeed and are constantly reviewing the effectiveness of educational techniques such as setting and support.
One speaker whose wisdom inspired humility and awe was Lord Dr. Michael Hastings of Scarisbrick, CBE.
He discussed the AI revolution and being ready for 2030. In his presentation he made reference to the World Economic Forum report and the vital skills which will be most desired by employers by 2020. These were listed as:
Coordinating with others.
Judgement and decision making.
Cognitive flexibility. This involves creativity, logical reasoning, and problem sensitivity.
I do believe that our curriculum and the opportunities pupils have here at St. Helen’s College are ticking every one of these skills! In the full report it discusses the skills which will be required but also those which will be in rapid decline. Emotional intelligence will be one of the top skills required, with active listening almost disappearing. ‘Robots may help us to get somewhere faster….but they cannot be more creative than we are’.
The CIA in the USA recently posted an advert in the Economist. The job spec stipulated: intellectual, curious adventurers. No work background was specified.
I am sure you can see where I am coming from…..your children are the future, so let’s keep supporting them in developing the correct skills through our academic and holistic curriculum to enable them to be ready for their futures.
I am signposting you to a Ted Talk by Lord Hastings..’The Empowerment of Purpose’.
Posted on: 28/09/2018
Head's Blog - Breast Cancer Awareness by Mrs. CheemaThey say everyone knows someone who has had Cancer. When I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer in 2013, at the age of 36...I didn’t.
I was chair of the Parents’ Association at the time and very much involved in the school community. We had just had the St. Helen’s College Family Bollywood evening. It was a fantastic night, all singing and dancing with great food. We even had Mr. Crehan changing the Bhangra lightbulbs on the dance floor! We came home elated with the success of the evening. That very night as I flopped into bed, exhausted with the excitement and preparation that comes with any school event, I felt a hard lump in my right breast.
As the news broke and the days unfolded, my world turned upside down. As a family, we were being taken down a road that was very unfamiliar to us. Eight months of treatment followed, to include 6 sessions of chemotherapy, 15 sessions of radiotherapy and surgery and a whole summer snatched away from us. Our children Suraj and Amar, just 8 and 5 at the time, had to watch and wait as mummy got sick and then a little better and then sick again as the chemotherapy did its job every three weeks to shrink my tumour and catch any stray cancer cells that may have travelled around my body.
People often ask how we coped? Well, I believe it has a lot to do with a positive mental attitude. Accepting a situation that is out of your control is the first step. No amount of worrying will change any situation. Each day when I wake up, I have a choice, to live that day as best I can or to lie in bed and feel sorry for myself. Some days, the latter choice was my only option when my body needed its rest. I am very aware every single day how precious our lives are and how they can be snatched away in a split second, so I choose to enjoy each and every day and make it special.
How do the children cope? I think children are very resilient, a breath of fresh air actually. The innocence of a child can get you through any situation. Children look at the here and now. They don’t hold on to the fear, don’t worry about the future and can move on quite quickly with a play date or a family movie night on the sofa with a big bowl of popcorn! Keeping things as normal as possible, even through the toughest of days, is how we got through it.
So here we are, it’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month and this year is a particularly exciting one for our family. Gurveer and I are working with one of the largest Breast Cancer charities, Breast Cancer Now, in collaboration with Marks and Spencer to raise vital funds for research into Breast Cancer so that by 2050, anyone diagnosed will survive. To take one of the most challenging parts of our lives and turn it into something positive to raise awareness and help towards a common goal is a fantastic opportunity for us.
M&S have pledged to raise 13 million pounds over this 5 year campaign and together we can reach this goal even faster. I am asking everyone to visit your local M&S store during the month of October. 20% of any purchases made from the Breast Cancer collection will be donated to Breast Cancer Now to fund this vital research. I believe that if we can break the backbone of Breast Cancer, we will be one step closer to finding better treatment for all other cancers.
Breast Cancer affects 1 in 8 women, and early detection is the key. I never thought this would happen to me but it did. Then my mum and my sister were also diagnosed with Breast Cancer. We are all ok now, because we were so aware and detected these changes early. Look, touch, feel, know your breasts and be aware of any changes, no matter how slight. This should be done every 3-4 weeks. If any change at all is seen, visit your GP and demand a mammogram is done. I cannot shout this message any louder and I will continue to do so. Speak to the women in your family and spread awareness amongst your friends, and speak to your elders as cancer does not exclude anyone. This is not something any woman can ignore. Be breast aware, it could save someone’s life.