School News and Head's Blog

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Posted on: 15/02/2019

Head's Blog - Working At St. Helen's College

  Working in the independent sector is a privilege for many teachers and support staff. Here at St. Helen’s College we have an incredibly supportive parent body, pupils who are eager to learn and it is the journey which home and school take together which ensures that we get the best from each child. This may not always be the picture some schools are facing. For those of you who have been keeping an eye on the education news, it can often be quite a depressing read; teacher recruitment and retention sits high on the agenda. Damian Hinds, education secretary, said: “I think teachers work too many hours – aggravated by unnecessary tasks like excessive marking and data entry, spending more than half their time on non-teaching tasks.” I make it my job to keep in touch with what is going on in the maintained sector and regularly meet up and interact with colleagues from both the independent and maintained sector.  On a Sunday evening I regularly contribute to an online discussions platform, ‘SLTChat’, which is both enlightening and refreshing as I am able to reflect on the good practice happening at our school.   At St. Helen’s College we have an incredibly dedicated staff who all work for the common interest in giving your children the most interesting experiences in our  curriculum. We use smart assessment methods which are effective and involve the pupils in the process and our data is used effectively to plan the next steps for the children’s learning.   Parents from Year 1 upwards will have received the children’s Learning Logs this week as part of our reporting process. These Learning Logs were noted in our last school inspection as an exceptional aspect of our teaching and learning process and the inspectors were showing so much interest in these that I have become very protective of these unique logs as they are totally bespoke for our school, being the brainchild of Mr. Lewis. The subject leaders have ownership of their subject logs and work closely with the class teachers to ensure that each statement is appropriate for the children but that pupils will all be stretched and challenged, often aspiring to targets in the year above or adapting to targets which still need to be consolidated from the previous year.  The pupils take ownership of their learning and visit these logs often to reflect on their progress and set their targets. For our younger pupils from Ducklings to Reception their learning is tracked and monitored via our online platform ‘Tapestry’ which I know that all the parents also have access to. This assists us in building up the profile of the children’s progress and development as they work within the Early Years Framework. Our staff have the freedom to be creative with our curriculum and have the time to research and plan for inspirational lessons to engage your children.   We have not felt the backlash of teacher recruitment which many schools face and it is with confidence and pride that we have a very low turnover of staff here at St. Helen’s College.  When teachers do decide to move on to pastures new or retire (sadly we will bid Mrs. Stark farewell in due course), we are inundated with applications from ambitious and inspiring teachers and other staff  who would like to join our team to make their contributions to your children’s learning. To say that that I am proud of our school is an understatement.  As we approach the mid-year point in our school calendar, I can hardly believe that we have already completed a term and a half of the 2018 - 2019 academic year.  Enjoy the half term break with your children. Continue to enrich their learning - talk to them about the world around them, play games and puzzles, read books together, visit interesting places! Happy Half Term! Mrs. Drummond
Posted on: 8/02/2019

Head's Blog - Antarctica by Mrs. McLaughlin

This week we have a guest blog from Mrs. McLaughlin, who has been inspiring the children at Upper School with assemblies about her journeys in Antarctica. On Monday I had the opportunity to lead the Middle School and Upper School assemblies. When I am given such opportunities I like to share my life experiences with the children: having written a book, explored Antarctica with Sir Robert Swan, trekked the Amazon Rainforest and the Himalayan range, hiked Mt Fuji in Japan and volunteered in Palestine, there is something there that intrigues everyone.   On Monday, I chose to inspire the children (and staff) with my Antarctica story. It seemed apt with the children having had a snow day on the Friday and temperatures in other parts of the world sinking to lows never experienced before. I showed the children videos and pictures of my trip and talked about what it was like to visit one of the coldest, loneliest and driest places on Earth. The children were in awe! I started by telling the children that I had watched a video that Sir Robert Swan had shown the children at the school I was working in at the time, and it was this video, showing the beauty and wonder of Antarctica, that made me determined to visit. I shared this video with the children and they seemed to be just as inspired as I was.   As I continued to show the children videos and pictures, I could see their eyes widen with excitement. The story of my friend Jemima the penguin and the leopard seal was one of the stories that intrigued them most. After telling my story of perseverance, co-operation, respect and fairness - just some of the values we teach here at school - I went on to explain the real reason I visited Antarctica. It was to make a difference, however small. It was to make small changes in my lifestyle and to inspire others to do the same, so that the world could be a much nicer place to live in. I shared some eye-opening facts about climate change with the children and asked them what they felt was the number one threat to our planet. I got so many fantastic answers: pollution, noise, humans, artificial intelligence and more. The children were surprised but quickly realised the truth when I told them Sir Robert Swan’s most famous quote: ‘The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it.’ This alone inspired me to do more and I know that it got the children thinking too. Since the assembly, the children have asked me a whole host of questions and have carried out research about Antarctica independently of their own accord. As a school, we continue to work closely with our Eco Reps to make a big impact in small ways. This includes taking part in 'Waste Week' and 'Switch Off Fortnight', ensuring that electricity is used efficiently, growing our own vegetables and monitoring food waste. Last year we achieved the Eco Schools Silver award and we are now striving for the prestigious ‘Green Flag’ award. If there is a final message I can leave you with, it is this: ‘The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it.’ - Sir Robert Swan OBE Mrs. McLaughlin
Posted on: 25/01/2019

Head's Blog - Talking Together

This week I have worked with both pupils and parents on issues regarding the use of social media platforms.  We are all members of a digital society and for those of us who are slightly older we have had to embrace this new arena and re-educate and up-skill ourselves (my final dissertation at university was typed up by a paid typist - computers were not a part of our world!)   By contrast, children nowadays know no different - technology is their world and it is rapidly changing.   This blog is not about how we use technology but more about the interpersonal relationships about which we MUST not forget. This week I met with some parents who wanted to dispel some myths or rumours which had been circulating in a parents' group on their social media platform WhatsApp. Through our face to face meeting, I was able to give them some clarity and answers to their queries. I was somewhat concerned about how much worry adults and children alike can allow themselves to suffer through dependency on online interactions and second guessing truths. This week in my Year 6 mindfulness lesson we discussed how to deal with worries and addressed how our minds can ruminate, catastrophise or overthink things and how worries can snowball and end up causing unnecessary stress and anxiety. I urge us all as a community to be kinder to ourselves and to each other -  let us remember what being human is all about - it is those interpersonal relationships and ability to communicate with each other which makes us quite superior to other living creatures.  We are a unique community here at St. Helen's College and, as a staff body, we are passionate about what we offer and how we work together to keep inspiring a lifelong love of learning in your children. Do keep speaking with us - communicate regularly, because ultimately we all put the children at the centre of every decision we make together!  Tomorrow I have my next set of meetings with Year 5 parents as we discuss their next steps; this is one more example of school and family working together - talking together - to get the best for the children! Have a lovely weekend. Mrs. Drummond
Posted on: 18/01/2019

Head's Blog - Looking Forward

Tomorrow I will have the pleasure of meeting many new families with their children who would like to become members of our wonderful St. Helen’s College family at our annual 3+ entry day.  I am also currently in the process of meeting with all of our current Year 5 parents to discuss future schools as our Upper School pupils begin to think about their future schools and the next step in their learning journey. It is always an emotional time for parents at both end of the scale. When the children are preparing to join us at 2+ or 3+, suddenly their babes in arms are wearing school uniforms, carrying a book bag and running into the playground to greet their new friends!  And at the other end, when the parents reflect on the many years they have spent under the watchful eye of the caring and compassionate staff at St. Helen’s College, emotions always run high. Many parents this week at the transfer evening related their memories of sitting with Mr. and Mrs. Crehan all those years ago as they entered into their journey with us. I can hardly believe it myself that the children we have been discussing were only beginning Year 3 when I arrived at the school as the new Head; they seemed so little, so young as they embraced the changes of moving from the end of Key Stage 1. Many of our current parents have older children now sitting GCSEs and beyond whose siblings are still with us - there is such a sense of family and strong bonds with the school. It certainly is unique and special to keep building those relationships with families and for the alumni parents and children to keep in touch with us, celebrating the children’s achievements and successes. Tomorrow I will be sharing with our new prospective parents the joys of being part of our community, what we stand for and the pride that we take in forming such strong bonds with families as we all work together to unlock their children’s talents and nurture each and every one of them to achieve their utmost best in all that they do. We are, as normal, incredibly over subscribed for entry to our Robins and Wrens Nursery classes, thus we already know that we will not be able to give a place to every child we meet on Saturday - for everyone that is so difficult - as everyone wants a piece of what we offer! Thank you to all parents and staff who are reading my blog this week - I am proud to lead this school and am full of admiration of each and every one of our pupils every day as they embrace new challenges and opportunities in their learning.  But without the staff and the full support of parents this would not be achievable. One day your children, when they are grown up, will reflect on their school days at St. Helen’s College - the best days of their lives! Mrs. Drummond
Posted on: 11/01/2019

Head's Blog - Digital Wellbeing

At the end of November,  Mr. Crehan, Mr. Lewis and I attended a conference at Radley College in Oxford arranged by the Independent Schools Council on Digital Strategy. This is an annual conference which brings together school leaders to discuss and share good practice from around the world on how we are preparing tomorrow’s leaders, your children, for this new era of digital transformation. The day was a mix of key speakers, workshops and networking opportunities. We all attended a variety of workshops and one of the workshops I attended struck a chord with me: ‘Digital Wellbeing’. We all know that mental health and wellbeing is hugely topical at the moment, but are we all playing our part in looking after our ‘Digital Wellbeing’? Technology is superb and we cannot deny that we are in a very exciting era where digital technology plays a big part in all our lives, but it is crucial that we employ strategies to ensure we do look after our digital wellbeing and that of our children. Over the festive period I am sure that many of the children received digital items; games, tablets, smart phones….and perhaps parents did too. I did chuckle when I read on Saturday 29th December an article in Schools Week, in which Damien Hinds our Education Secretary has recommended that ‘pupils should ditch gadgets and climb trees’ by schools introducing an activity passport for all school pupils - see link below. https://schoolsweek.co.uk/pupils-should-ditch-gadgets-and-climb-trees-in-2019-damian-hinds-tells-schools/ I am somewhat saddened that yet again the government seem to be dictating to schools about the job we should be doing -  surely many of the activities on these passports are part of normal family living and I am delighted that many of them also appear on our St. Helen’s College curriculum! However, digital wellbeing is a very serious aspect of healthy living and I was delighted to have been discussing this with Mrs. Smith. One of her friends has recently developed a website for parents, which I think you will all be very interested in reading about and perhaps you will take action too. I shall now hand over to Mrs Smith….. Sign4Year9 A friend of mine has co-developed a website called ‘Sign4Year9’ for parents who want to resist the pressure to let their child have a smart phone before they are emotionally mature enough to handle social media and unrestricted internet access. The idea is based on research highlighting the dangers of children having access to smart phones too young, including lack of face-to-face conversation, declining amounts of time spent outdoors and/or with family and extended family, and the perils of social media and internet access for our children’s mental health. I am sharing it in the hope that St. Helen’s College parents and staff will want to sign (and share) the pledge, which is designed mainly to give parents support in resisting pressure from their children to get a smart phone too soon. It is important to note that the pledge only relates to smart phones. Allowing your child a ‘normal’, ‘unsmart’ phone, without internet/social media access, before their teenage years would still be ok! The Sign4Year9 movement is in its infancy, so this is a chance to be there at the start of something which will hopefully go nationwide and which has already been shared internationally. If this is an idea which speaks to you, and you would like to sign up, please visit Sign4Year9 to add your name to the growing number making the pledge. Read on to find out why I believe it is so important that you do! Earlier this year, a study carried out by MusicMagpie and published in the Independent found that a quarter of children under the age of 6 own a smart phone. It also found that 8 in 10 parents do not limit the amount of time children spend on their phones, and that 75% of parents do not disable the data function so that their children are able to use these smart phones to access the internet and social media apps freely over wifi networks and through mobile data. A staggering two thirds of parents admitted that they do not put a cap on their child’s monthly smart phone spend.1 As a parent of older teenagers, these statistics were shocking to me. However, as an aunt to children aged 10, 8, 4, 3 and 1, I suspect they probably sound about right to parents of very young children, who are used to seeing their children operate smart phones and who are often amazed and impressed at their children’s ability to operate technical devices at such a young age. Smart phones, ipads and laptops weren’t widely used by children 15 years ago – the ‘baby phone’ phenomenon has been a growing area over the last 10 years in particular. Smart phone technology hit the mainstream for children just before my two sons started at their senior school and my husband and I bought them each a smart phone when they entered Year 7. We believed that having a phone was all but essential from the beginning of secondary school, as our sons would be travelling to/from school independently for the first time. Being able to communicate with them whenever I wanted was also a huge comfort to me, as a parent, as they began a new chapter in their lives. It is humbling now to hear my sons say that they wish we had delayed them getting smart phones for a year or two. It is also obvious to me, with hindsight, that they would have been perfectly safe and healthy - indeed, possibly safer and healthier – with ‘unsmart’ phones at age 11 and 12. Their school has never limited the use of smart phones at break or lunch times and my boys particularly bemoan the fact that, on any given day, many of their friends chose not to play football at break time because they were too busy on their phones. The school is now undertaking a consultation with parents, pupils and staff on the use of smart phones and is considering an ‘out of sight’ policy for phones in school, which has my wholehearted support, not least because, while not directly affected, my sons have been aware throughout their teenage years of various cases of children upset by social media activity both in and out of school. I believe that children should be unable to access social media during their ‘working’ day at school, to enable them to concentrate on developing face-to-face friendships, to indulge in healthy, active break times, and to help them to focus on study in their primary place of study - school! There is a growing movement of parents who are concerned about the effects of children being given smart phones too young. Although these phones are incredible, useful pieces of technology with many advantages, research has shown that they can have some very detrimental effects on children. In particular, the following effects are now being recognised by parents and researchers: Smart phones can alter the parent-child relationship as children become more dependent on their smart phone and the immediate (although not always correct) answers it provides to their questions.   According to more than one study2, smart phones, especially when permitted in the bedroom, can cause later bedtimes, lack of sleep and fatigue. These factors may contribute to lack of concentration, reduced physical co-ordination and lower attainment at school, as well as reduced ability to cope, emotionally, with the demands of life.   Ready access to smart phones can hinder a child’s creativity and imagination. Exciting, colourful games requiring short attention bursts may slow children’s sensory and motor development.   According to a leading child psychotherapist, published in the Daily Telegraph3, the ubiquity of smart phones, broadband and social media are contributing negatively to the power and pace of mental health issues in children and teenagers, including eating disorders and teen suicide rates.   The fast-paced nature of interactions on social media, in particular, do not allow children the time and space to reflect on the impact of their words and actions. Reflection, self-evaluation, self-limitation, listening skills, tolerance and empathy are qualities that should be embedded in our children as they grow; if opportunities for them to be embedded are lost, these qualities may not be there in the adults of tomorrow. What sort of a world will we be living in then?   Researchers have found that smart phones can be detrimental to a child’s socio-economic development4. According to these findings, the amount of time children spend on smart phones and similar devices could impair the development of the skills needed for learning maths and science.   Smart phone use can be addictive5. Children who become dependent upon, or addicted to, smart phones are likely to experience problems caused by this addiction during their teenage years and in later life, including the inability to form healthy, functioning relationships with family and friends. This phenomenon is becoming known as ‘technoference’, as technology use interferes with everyday living.   The unrestricted (or minimally restricted) use of smart phones can cause obesity6, and it is unlikely that there is no relation between the increasing rates of child obesity and the increasing amounts of time spent by children on screens.   Unrestricted internet access has many, many risks for children who may access inappropriate content. Obvious risks are that they may access, and become desensitised to, pornography and extreme violence. Risks less considered by parents are that children may access information about disease and death before they are emotionally ready to cope with this; they may access inappropriate ‘beauty’ and/or body images before or as their own bodies change in puberty, which may cause body dysmorphia, anorexia or other mental health issues; they may experience online bullying; they may connect with strangers who groom them sexually or radicalise them; they may discover inappropriate information about friends, relatives, neighbours or other people. Technology has done a lot to make our lives easier and more efficient. But, as parents, it is our job to be concerned about the impact that devices like smart phones can have on our children, and our job to decide when our children are emotionally mature enough to handle the many threats of unrestricted internet and social media access. The growing body of research cannot and must not be ignored. Please, if you agree, sign the Sign4Year9 pledge to try to take back some ‘parent power’ and to help limit young children’s exposure to the potential negative effects of smart phones. Finally, in addition to the studies cited below, you may also be interested in this piece, which found a direct correlation between smart phone use by parents and behavioural issues in children. We must all be mindful of our own smart phone use too.https://globalnews.ca/news/4315717/parents-smartphone-addiction-children-behavioural-issues/ Mrs. Smith References: 1 https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/gadgets-and-tech/children-smartphone-ideal-age-social-media-snapchat-youtube-a8294701.html 2 http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/135/2/e367 3 https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/health/children/11486167/Are-smartphones-making-our-children-mentally-ill.html 4 https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2015-01/bumc-mai013015.php 5https://www.commonsensemedia.org/about-us/news/press-releases/new-report-finds-teens-feel-addicted-to-their-phones-causing-tension-at 6 https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/hsph-in-the-news/smartphone-tablet-use-linked-with-obesity-in-teens/
Posted on: 7/12/2018

Head's Blog - Christmas by Mrs. Smith

Whatever 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! Selfless service 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! Mrs. Smith                    
Posted on: 30/11/2018

Head's Blog - Reclaiming The Inner You

A 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!   Mrs. Drummond
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. Time Allocation Weekdays during term: Nursery: informal 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. Mrs. Drummond

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