School News and Head's Blog

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Posted on: 21/09/2018

Head's Blog - Being At Home With Your School

    I have been interested to read in the media this week two very similar articles about choosing the right school for your child and what to look out for at an Open Day (links below). The BBC article is very much focused on senior school transfer whilst the lifestyle magazine article focuses on the independent sector and choosing a good Preparatory School.   The analogy one article used was comparing choosing a school to buying a house. It needs to be a good fit for you and your family and you will definitely have a ‘gut’ feeling about the school.  Of course like choosing a home, with a school there are many other factors to be considered but I do not intend to go into too much detail in this blog; you can read both the articles for yourself.   I am sure that St. Helen's College parents know that you have  made the right choice for your children, having chosen St. Helen’s College very carefully knowing that our values and ethos are matched with your own family values. We do not hold open days where the activities are ‘contrived’ and only showcase certain elements of the school. We do not hand pick our tour guides - rather, all our Year 6 pupils are our ambassadors and tour visitors, and they are certainly our best marketeers! We have prospective parents tour the school all year round, not just on Open Morning, since we believe it is important that they see, hear and feel the heartbeat of St. Helen’s College.   The support that you give your children at home in their learning and development complements all that the staff at school are doing on a daily basis both in the classroom and around the school community. Our staff are being the best role models to your children all day long; the learning stretches across the school day both inside the classroom, in the corridors, the dining room and beyond the school gates. We all work together to educate your children to empower them to strive for excellence in all aspects of their learning. As Open Day season commences for senior schools I do urge parents in the Upper School to visit a variety of schools. Know what you are looking for, but most important of all, make sure that you get a good feel for the school - that gut instinct. Do read the articles I have linked to assist you and do come back to share your experiences with me. I thank all our parents and pupils for being our best ambassadors - it is through the conversations that you are having with family, friends and colleagues that the reputation of our school spreads and we look forward to meeting our prospective parents this year for the families wishing to join our unique community. http://optimamagazine.co.uk/read/family/education/1901-how-to-make-the-most-of-open-days https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-41469041 Mrs. Drummond
Posted on: 14/09/2018

Head's Blog - The Power Of Everyday Heroes

At our very first staff meeting last week, all employees of St. Helen’s College were reminded of how privileged we all are to spend our working days in an environment where we can have such a positive impact on your children. Everyone who works in an educational setting is a hero! Many of us are not even aware that we have these superpower ‘hero’ qualities. But to many children they see the adults who surround them, care for them, listen to them each day as their heroes. The children may not be aware of the impact that the adults are having upon them and it may not be until later life when they reflect on their life journey that these everyday heroes will be recalled. The message which reverberated around the room was about being human first….our roles as teacher, TALA, SMSA, secretary, groundsman, school patrol..these roles come second! I showed the staff a very moving and poignant TedEx talk by a friend of mine, a teacher who has had a very difficult and moving life journey but now speaks to audiences about ‘The Power of Everyday Heroes’. You can find her talk on Youtube under Jaz Ampaw-Farr/Ted-Ex Norwich. Jaz is a teacher and an excellent literacy trainer but a few years ago, having spoken to audiences about how to improve literacy in the classroom, she decided to reveal her story. As I stood with a very nervous Jaz backstage at ‘Teachmeet London’ she was so apprehensive about whether she should deliver her presentation, which was most certainly nothing to do with phonics and literacy. The impact Jaz’s talk had on the audience that day took her to TedEx Norwich; her message is strong and heartfelt. We will email parents the link to the video of her talk, which contains sensitive material and is not suitable for children. It only lasts 10 minutes, but this is 10 minutes which may make you step back from your role in your workplace, to remember that ultimately if we can all be human first we may have the greatest and most positive impact on others. I speak on behalf of all the staff when I say that we are so proud of our St. Helen’s College community. The relationships we have with our pupils and parents are unique and we look forward to a very successful and happy academic year with your precious children.   Mrs. Drummond  
Posted on: 7/09/2018

Head's Blog - Relay for Life (by Mrs. Vatsa)

My youngest son, Anand, was diagnosed with leukaemia when he was only 2 years old, still in nappies and barely talking. He is now a boundless 5 year old, having completed 3.5 years of treatment. This long journey has taken place while we’ve been a part of the St. Helen’s College community, as Anand’s older brother Vandan had just started in Reception when we received the diagnosis.  When Mrs Drummond asked me if we’d like to write about Anand’s treatment journey, I wasn’t sure what from this long story I should write about. During the candle lighting ceremony at the Cancer Research Relay for Life event that the school participated in last weekend, one of the speakers talked at length about hope. I reflected on this and realised that hope wasn’t the thing that resonated most in Anand’s story - it was more resilience, and the positive attitude of a young child who doesn’t really understand negativity. It’s not resilience born of grit or bloody mindedness, more an acceptance of what is, and letting go of what happens. I know the children learn Mindfulness at school, which is in part about “being present” - children have an innate ability to live in the here and now. Whatever Anand went through, he would let it go. He never let one moment of pain or discomfort ruin the next. If he was 'nil by mouth', it was forgotten the second he could tuck into his cheese sandwich; if he’d had an unpleasant procedure it was forgotten as soon as a sticker was offered, and the adults involved were forgiven immediately. Self-pity very rarely featured. I don’t recall Anand ever expressing regret or anger for what he had to go through or allowing it to ruin what could be. He spent most of his time playing and making mischief like any other little boy, and no one would guess he was any different.  Our neighbour has an elderly sister who is sadly enduring cancer treatment and not coping with it very well. This neighbour came to me for motivation for her sister, knowing how well Anand had coped. I think so much of it came down to his acceptance. Anand didn’t know any better, so just accepted it all. My neighbour’s sister can’t change that she has cancer and can’t really change the treatment she has to endure. To learn anything from Anand, it would be that she can change the mindset with which she bears it. She can dwell on the pain and injustice or she can seek joy and distraction elsewhere - as a child, Anand instinctively chose the latter. We are our children’s teachers, but this highlights to me how much we can learn from our children. They are naturally spirited, full of joy, curiousity, play and adventure. Why sit and mope when there are adventures to be had?  I can’t not mention Anand’s older brother Vandan, who had only just turned 5 when Anand got sick. Through the years of treatment, Vandan has shown similar spirit and resilience. He showed this every time he woke up to find Anand and I had disappeared in the night to the hospital, when plans were waylaid, outings missed, holidays weren’t booked, or he was on the receiving end of Anand’s steroid-induced aggressions. Anand was so often the focus of attention, but Vandan chose to help look after his little brother, and chose to put Anand before himself, rather than complain. He’s the other hero in our story!  It’s strange to think unwitting young children can inspire and motivate us grown ups, but to my initial surprise Anand seems to have. I can’t control what happens to me, but only I can control how I deal with it. I’ve always believed we play the hand we are dealt, and now Anand is my shining example of how to do this.  Unsurprisingly, Vandan was enthused to be involved in writing about Anand’s treatment for the newsletter. Vandan wanted to write about the Relay for Life event. So, over to Vandan....  On Saturday 1st September, my family and I went to the Harrow Relay for Life, organised by Cancer Research UK.  When we got there, we had a little look around, and we found the St. Helen’s College stall.  Working on the stall were Mr. and Mrs. McLaughlin, Mrs. Drummond, Mrs. Stark, Miss Dear and lots of others. On their stall, you could decorate lanterns to light in the evening. Soon after we got there, they gathered everybody together to start the relay. All the cancer survivors were given purple t-shirts to wear, including Anand. As the Deputy Mayor was late, they asked Anand if he would like to cut the ribbon as he was the youngest survivor there. Unfortunately, the Mayor did arrive! Luckily, he asked Anand to cut the ribbon with him, and then off we went walking…as slowly as snails! We walked around the track once, with the St. Helen's team and the St. Helen’s banner – we even got to hold it. After our lap, we got to sit on a blow up sofa in the middle of the track – Mrs. Drummond and I wore a purple wig! We then went to have a go at the activities on the stall and get some food.  Luke won amazing VIRTUAL REALITY GLASSES on one of the stalls!  Well done Luke!  Not many of my other friends were there because their parents must have forgotten – I’m pointing at you mums and dads!  I’m sure they raised lots of money for children and adults with cancer. Mrs. Drummond said St. Helen's College raised lots of money this year.  Well done to everyone at St. Helen's College! Mrs. Vatsa    
Posted on: 6/07/2018

Head's Blog - The Chartered College of Teaching

When selecting a school, how can parents make judgements about the quality of teaching on offer? Should they look at academic results or could that lead them to select an ‘exam factory’ rather than a school which inspires a lifelong love of learning through excellent, well-planned, dynamic, proactive teaching and learning opportunities? How can parents be assured that a school is using the latest research in its teaching methods, building excellent results through a constantly evolving best practice based on what is proven to work? Do working parents really have the time and the will to read through comprehensive inspection reports in detail, rather than just take the headlines? These questions are important for families in both the independent and state education sector, but are also crucial for Heads in the independent sector, who are increasingly under pressure to compete for new pupils and to prove why and how their school is ‘a cut above’. The new format of the Independent Schools Inspectorate will give parents security in the knowledge that a school is compliant with the DFE's regulatory school requirements (Regulatory Compliance Inspection). The Educational Quality Inspection will also give every school the opportunity to demonstrate to the Inspectorate the quality of the outcomes for their pupils and the contributory factors which makes each school unique. There is no doubt that these inspections are valuable and necessary. However, parents (and Heads) also need to be reassured that individual teachers, to whom the pastoral care and education of children is entrusted, are doing their utmost to develop themselves continually and to contribute positively to the ever-evolving educational landscape. A new professional body has been established to provide a solution: Chartered Teacher Status, a post-graduate qualification for dedicated teachers which gives them a chartered professional standing. In the future, parents will be able to ask schools how many Chartered Teachers they have on their books and this will provide an independent measure of the quality, dedication and professionalism of the teachers they will be ‘employing’. Back in February 2017, the Chartered College of Teaching (CCT)  held their inaugural conference at the QEII Convention Centre, Westminster, the same venue where only months earlier the Independent Association of Prep Schools (IAPS) had  held their national conference for Head teachers from UK and international IAPS schools. The CCT has been established to connect, inform and inspire teachers to deliver the best possible education for children and young people. Theirs is a professional role comparable to the Law Society, General Medical Council and Royal Institute of British Architects. Professor Dame Alison Peacock, the Chief Executive of the Chartered College, the former Secretary of State for Education the Rt Hon Justine Greening MP,  John Tomsett from Huntington School, Professor Rob Coe of CEM at Durham University and Professor Tanya Byron were just some of the speakers we heard from that day.  On return from the conference I offered all my teachers at St. Helen’s College the opportunity to take up membership of the CCT, paid for by the school as part of their CPD. Many independent school parents belong to professions where their achievements can see them elevated to chartered status. However, for teachers, previously the only way to be elevated in their careers was to take on other leadership responsibilities, become middle leaders, senior leaders or headteachers. The problem is, this takes teachers away from the classrooms where their work has the most impact and away from the reason they were inspired to join the profession in the first place - to teach children! Independent schools do have their own professional associations who provide exceptional CPD opportunities but, with parents increasingly ‘shopping around’ across the sectors before making final choices about buying into private education,  it is important that independent schools embrace partnerships across all sectors and phases of education to give our teachers even greater opportunities and a voice on the national education stage. The Chartered College of Teaching hopes to drive even greater support and collaboration across the whole profession.   At St. Helen’s College, we are delighted to be supporting our Head of EYFS who has secured a place on the pilot cohort of the Chartered Teacher programme, which was launched at the start of the year for practising teachers to recognise their skills and knowledge while working towards accreditation as a  ‘Chartered Teacher’. There are 180 teachers in this first cohort, from international and UK schools. The programme enables teachers to continue developing their practice within the classroom, raises the status of the profession, and is the first step in the development of a career pathway focused not on leadership but classroom practice.  The pilot programme has participants from all sectors and phases. Throughout, participants have undertaken a range of different assessments that enable them to showcase their knowledge and skills against the areas set out in the Chartered College’s Professional Principles.  As a Founding Fellow of the Chartered College, I have been selected to sit on the Assessment Board for the pilot programme.  We meet as a group, in person or online, to advise and moderate the assessment pathway of the programme. It is a rigorous and demanding course and any school who has a member of staff who has Chartered Teacher status should be very proud. Parents can place their trust in the Chartered Teachers scheme. Chartered Teachers must prove that they use latest educational research in teaching practice day to day and, in doing so, that they inspire other colleagues and their school as a whole to keep up to date with the latest research-based teaching techniques. The outcomes are twofold: children are more inspired to learn and to take ownership of their own learning, and they are also PROVEN more likely to achieve better outcomes in both their academic and personal development. Teacher professional development should be a high priority for all school leaders as part of their strategic development plan.  In the independent sector there are high stakes for pupil outcomes reflected in good examination results, and rightly so. Hard-working parents, often paying school fees from income, expect value for money in the form of the best teaching and learning for their children. To ensure that we provide this, it is crucial that the professional development of teachers is prioritised and that Heads know where to access the best CPD opportunities - there is a growing unregulated market of CPD which is not ‘quality assured’ or tested, but which can be eye-wateringly expensive! It is therefore reassuring that IAPS, who already provide an excellent programme of CPD for teachers and school leaders, is currently in discussions with The Chartered College of Teachers. Working together, I am confident that we will build the membership numbers of teachers from the independent sector. Teacher recruitment and teacher retention is becoming a problem and this is having an impact on the independent sector too.  Head teachers and governors need to plan effectively and raise the questions: how do we ensure that our teachers are kept abreast of curricular issues, have access to good evidence based educational research to improve teaching and learning in the classroom and how are we keeping staff inspired and motivated.  We hope that the Chartered College of Teaching will provide answers. The Chartered College has set up a network programme across the UK to build up the professional knowledge base of teaching and bring members together to work on issues of direct concern to classroom practice, wherever they are located and whatever their setting, interests and experience.   Ten members of St. Helen’s College staff recently attended a session hosted at another independent school who have also embraced memberships and promotion of the Chartered College among their staff.  The session was attended by teachers from local primary and secondary schools, from the maintained and independent sector.  This  year I attended the second annual Conference of the Chartered College.  I came away from the conference having connected yet again with many wonderful teachers and educators,  further informed and inspired to go back to my own school to continue working with my staff to improve the quality of the education and experiences we provide. So I would urge every Head teacher in the independent sector to support the work of the Chartered College of Teaching and to promote membership for every one of their teachers.  And I would urge parents to ask schools whether their teachers are members of the CCT, and whether they have any teachers working towards Chartered status. In future years, this may well be the best measure possible of a school’s overall ‘quality’. Mrs. Drummond Founding Fellow of the Chartered College of Teaching  
Posted on: 29/06/2018

Artificial Intelligence - School's Out For Ever?

Artificial Intelligence – School’s Out For Ever1? ‘We are approaching a time when machines will be able to outperform humans at almost any task. I believe that society needs to confront this question before it is upon us: if machines are capable of doing almost any work humans can do, what will humans do? We need to rise to the occasion and meet this challenge before human labour becomes obsolete.’ So said respected computer scientist Moshe Vardi in 20162. Perhaps his pessimistic forecast was prompted by a number of reports, such as the 2013 study at the University of Oxford by Frey and Osborne3 which predicted that some 50% of 700 jobs are under threat of automation in the next two decades. Ironically, Frey and Osborne’s report was partly generated by an artificial intelligence (AI) system! Toby Walsh, in his book Android Dreams – The Past, Present and Future of Artificial Intelligence4, throws us a lifeline by arguing that the alarmist newspaper headlines which followed the Oxford report were unjustified. For example, some jobs will be only partly automated, some automation may not harmonise with customer demands (pilotless airliner, anybody?) and new technology invariably creates new types of job. Some readers might be old enough to remember the excitement of the early 90s, when we all thought that computers would lead to a 3-day working week for all. (This was about the same time that we were anticipating the Peace Dividend that would surely follow the downfall of the USSR!) The part-automation of complex, skilled tasks promises huge benefits to society, and indeed is already beginning to impact upon a variety of professions. Yesterday’s Times and Telegraph newspapers reported that Babylon, a ‘chatbot’ which in some areas assesses patients who dial 111, achieved a high pass (81%) in the diagnosis exam set by the Royal College of General Practitioners (average mark 72%), and even outperformed a small group of experienced GPs (97% to 93%). GPs responded by saying that their ‘gut feeling’ helps them to care for patients – and I am certain that they are right. Experienced GPs build up, over thousands of consultations, an apparently intuitive ability (aka gut feeling) to identify unreported symptoms. Their huge knowledge base, built upon skills of social perception moulded over millions of years of evolutionary development, and their ability to communicate in the most appropriate way given the individual and the circumstances, provide them with professional skills which surpass those of Babylon. Babylon will be a useful tool to speed up diagnosis, and to assist those who cannot access a doctor directly, but there is more to diagnosis than self-reported symptoms, and more to medical care than diagnosis. At the London Festival of Learning this week, research was reported which looked at the effect of teachers using high-tech ‘Lumilo’ glasses, which allow them to check individual performance during lessons while simultaneously monitoring the class5. This claims to be the first experimental study which shows that pupils can learn more if the artificial intelligence of a maths tutoring programme, which provides students with step-by-step guidance and allows them to work at their own pace, is combined with support from human teachers. This is a super example of artificial intelligence working hand in hand with natural (teacher) intelligence. As Ken Holstein, lead author on the study, says, ‘Lumilo facilitates a form of mutual support or co-orchestration between the human teacher and the AI tutor.’ In this study the AI (an adaptive tutoring programme which continuously monitors the student’s progress and modifies the task accordingly) is coupled with new technology (glasses which present the teacher with visual data about individual student performance and motivation), helping the teacher to identify which students needed one-to-one help. Other AI innovations will impact on education sooner rather than later, and will become mainstream. It is my view that schools and teachers will need to adapt as AI becomes increasingly integrated into teaching and learning, but that neither is under threat of extinction. We are social beings and schools are more than places of academic learning. Schools inculcate values and encourage the exploration of interests and the development of talents; they foster friendship, teamwork and resilience; they are places where traditions, culture and experience can be shared; pragmatically, they provide childcare; and perhaps above all they are places where childhood can be celebrated and where children can experience the wonder, delight and awe of the world around them. It will be an impressive ‘bot’ which can replicate all of that. D.A. Crehan P.S. The Frey and Osborne report puts the probability that teachers will be automated at less than 1%! 1https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Oo8QzDHimQ 2www.telegraph.co.uk/news/science/science-news/12155808/Robots-will-take-over-most-jobs-within-30-years-experts-warn.html 3Frey, C.B. and Osborne, M.A. (2013) The Future of Employment: How Susceptible are Jobs to Computerisation? www.oxfordmartin.ox.ac.uk/downloads/academic/The_Future_of_Employment.pdf 4Android Dreams – The Past, Present and Future of Artificial Intelligence, by Toby Walsh (Hurst & Company, London)  5Student Learning Benefits of a Mixed-reality Teacher Awareness Tool in AI-enhanced Classrooms, by Kenneth Holstein, Bruce M. McLaren and Vincent Aleven (Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh)
Posted on: 22/06/2018

Head's Blog - Mindfulness For Very Young Children by Mrs. Crehan

Greetings to all from retirement! My life currently is dominated by the very young and the very old as I am caring for my 1 year old grandson, I visit two Homestart families (a charity based locally at All Saints Church that cares for families with young children who are struggling to cope) and I sing and teach Mindfulness to our 2 -3 year old St. Helen’s Ducklings. Also, at the other end of the age spectrum, I take out my ancient parents and visit two old people’s homes locally with a group of St. Helen’s College children, singing songs from the 1940s. Mrs. Drummond and I attended the Annual Mindfulness Conference on Saturday which was very inspiring. It showed how vital Mindfulness is to all ages but also how important it is to teach at an early age because thoughts are powerful and the longer one believes damaging ideas about oneself, the harder it is to stand back from them and not be affected by them negatively. At the conference there were quite a few young people who spoke of how close they had come to seriously affecting their health through anxiety and how learning Mindfulness had allowed them to calm themselves through daily meditation and through the ability to watch their thoughts and remember that thoughts are not facts and that they don’t have to believe them. There is a member of Parliament, Chris Douane, who has introduced the practice of Mindfulness to a large number of members of Parliament, who spoke at the conference about his intention to get Mindfulness taught in as many schools as possible and maybe introduce it into teacher training because there are so many young people who are suffering from negative mental health and anxiety in our secondary schools and sometimes at the top end of our junior schools and more teachers are needed to teach it. At St. Helen’s College, Mrs. Drummond has trained in the teaching of Mindfulness and continued the teaching of two different Mindfulness courses in Year 4 and Year 6, while I am inventing my own course for the Ducklings because there is nothing written by Mindfulness in Schools Project for this age group as yet. The age of two may seem quite early to introduce Mindfulness. However, I think that even if children don’t suffer from too many negative thoughts at this age, the regulation of their emotions is quite important as it is the beginning of their will developing and they can experience quite strong feelings, for instance, when their will is thwarted, otherwise known as the ‘terrible twos.’ I have two puppets: a monkey and a lion. The monkey is supposed to represent the agile mind, flitting everywhere, grabbing onto a particular thought or feeling and dominating one’s emotional realm. The lion is supposed to represent stillness and wisdom. I invent various scenarios where Monkey is unhappy or over-excited and experiencing all the different emotions. Lion advises Monkey how to feel happier by suggesting things such as slow breathing where one breathes out for a longer count than one breathes in, or shows him a snow shaker where the snow flurry represents the thoughts which eventually rest in stillness or finger-breathing where they run a finger from one hand up and down the fingers of the other hand in time with their inward and outward breaths. I believe that this last practice is now often used by some teachers in the early years to settle children down after they have come in from the playground. The Ducklings also have their own snow-shakers with a photo of their face inside which they can shake and watch as the flakes gradually settle, like their own thoughts or emotions. I have given each of the Ducklings their own monkey and shown them how to put it onto their chest when they go to sleep and watch the monkey go up and down as they breathe. This concentrates the mind on the breathing which calms the thoughts at bedtime and can help them go to sleep. So in a very simple way through various breathing practices they will begin to learn that when they experience an emotion it does not have to take over their whole being but they can begin to see it in a more detached way and thus have control over themselves. One parent of a current Duckling told me that her daughter is able to take herself off and sit still to calm herself when she is upset. The concentration on breathing has a dual purpose in that it takes the attention off whatever is dominating the mind but also it has a physiological function in that the slower breathing also slows down the heartbeat and the body calms down and de-stresses, which counteracts an over-emotional state. We have looked at the use of the senses in detail with fun games, launching it with a Spiderman toy with 'spidie senses', because awareness of each sense is a great way to access the present moment and thus a way to reconnect with the external world, away from the inward all-consuming thoughts and feelings. Having spent a session on each sense we had a great sensory walk outside today where the Ducklings were able to notice the sound of the birds and traffic, could smell the lavender and the herbs, could watch a spider spinning its web and could touch a cold rough wall or feel a smooth leaf. I’m sure we’re all aware how frequently we can walk without being aware of anything and are totally immersed in our thoughts. I should say that the Mindfulness teaching at Ducklings is only at the beginning of each session and we then sing songs that may be related in subject matter to whatever we have looked at with Monkey and Lion as well as singing traditional nursery rhymes. ‘If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands’ is a regular, and also our senses version, ‘If you look and if you see, use your eyes!’  We sometimes do a little yoga or mindful movement too. I am grateful to many parents of Ducklings last year and this year who have told me of the positive effect that the Mindfulness course has had upon their children and that it has given their children control over their moods and given them the tool of seeing that, if they are able to identify their mood, then they can step back from it and take the relevant positive action to feel happy again or at least be free from the dominating thoughts. If St. Helen's College children can learn to identify how they are feeling and take the steps necessary to alleviate the pain that can come from difficult emotions at this early stage, and with the Mindfulness and Positive Psychology that they will practise at school in Years 4, 5 and 6, it will spare them much heartache in the future as well as giving them the tools to help them to avoid the mental illness that seems prevalent in our young people today. They might be able to teach some Mindfulness to their parents too! Mrs. Crehan    
Posted on: 15/06/2018

Head's Blog - Which School Did You Come From?

It is such a great testament to St. Helen’s College when our ex-pupils and parents contact us when they have moved on to their new schools and let us know how they are getting on. ‘Which school did you come from?’ is a question which many of our alumni are asked by their new teachers. The reason for this question is that our pupils tend to be ahead in skills, knowledge and understanding in many subject areas in comparison to children of a similar age at their new schools. We are most fortunate to have teachers with very high expectations and our bespoke curriculum gives your children a depth of intellectual challenge as they develop their metacognitive skills throughout their St. Helen’s College journey.  Like building a house, good solid foundations are necessary for the house to stand strong and be extended in many ways! I could preach about every curriculum subject in this blog but I will focus my attention on two core subjects which often complement each other - maths and science. Our mathematics programme nurtures confidence in the children so that they are able to  work independently, take risks and persevere, and they will experience success. All mathematical learning needs to start with the children utilising concrete objects which will then enable them to move to pictorial form and finally they can apply their skills and understanding in a more abstract form. If pupils believe they are no good at mathematics, they are likely to give up before they have really tried. Research shows a strong link between confidence and achievement in mathematics. By the time our pupils reach Year 6 they are confident mathematicians and are able to access a KS3 curriculum which extends their problem solving and reasoning skills. They make links in their learning by reflecting back to what they have previously been taught. At the beginning of Year 6 many of our pupils will have completed the 11+ assessments and in their final year with us their mathematical skills are thoroughly embedded as they have the chance to consider more thoroughly the principles that underpin mathematics and which can be applied throughout their mathematical education rather than rote learning of methods to solve specific problems (which can happen in 11+ preparation!) The use of the flipped classroom also enhances the pupils’ progress as the key concepts are introduced to the pupils before the lesson, with classroom time then being used to deepen understanding through discussion with peers, problem solving activities and plenty of time to practise with the teacher on hand. The solid foundation in mathematics and the confidence the children have in their ability usually results in them being placed in top sets even in the most demanding of grammar or independent schools. The St. Helen’s College science curriculum has continued to evolve over the ten years that  Ms Gilham has taken on the leadership of the subject. At St. Helen’s College we have enriched the curriculum with a continuously developing scheme of work and its embedding is strengthened by exciting and applied scientific investigations. Children learn by conducting experiments which cater for all learners.  Our lessons are pitched higher than they may be in other schools. We have passionate teachers working as a team from the EYFS right through to Year 6, to support the delivery of the curriculum. We have focus days where science is fun and accessible to all. By the time the children reach Year 6, they have an appreciation of concepts such as  respiration during germination and the sheer fascination conveyed that a seed can do this because of science. Pupils are taught fun mnemonics or even dance moves to help them to remember complex concepts. For example, the five stages of a flowering plant: germination, growth, pollination, fertilisation and seed dispersal. (GGPFS - Good Girls Pay For Strawberries) or the fun dance moves of the water cycle! We are passionate that the children appreciate and know the ‘awe and wonder’ of science. As a research scientist, it is Ms Gilham’s goal to impart all manner of skills when performing experiments, drawing from experiences from her previous role such as extracting DNA from skin cells to explain what DNA is. In the past, Year 6 have extracted DNA from strawberries to link to their learning about ‘evolution and inheritance’. I visited an introductory lesson to this topic this week with a prospective family as we toured the school and they were quite overwhelmed by the children’s use of scientific vocabulary and  the complexity of the topic which they were clearly understanding and relating to. We encourage the children to talk and discuss their learning with their parents and other family members and make scientific terms part of their everyday language because everything we do can be explained and linked to science! It fills me with such a sense of pride when I speak with senior school heads and alumni to know that our pupils are so well prepared academically and socially as they move forward on their learning journey to senior schools.  Our Year 6 pupils are currently meeting with senior school staff and attending move-up mornings as part of their transition process and they feel secure and confident in the knowledge that they are so well prepared. Mrs. Drummond
Posted on: 8/06/2018

Head's Blog - Quality Early Years Provision

Many parents I am sure will have read the damning reports in so many newspapers from Amanda Speilman, Ofsted’s Chief Inspector, when she addressed hundreds of Early Years leaders and teachers at the Pre-School Learning Alliance's national conference on Friday 1st June.  Ms Speilman recognised the increased need for parents to have early years childcare with so many families now having both parents working full time, but she criticised parenting skills and commented on the rising number of children who enter schools with poor language skills due to the lack of involvement and interaction of some parents with their pre-school children.  One Early Years specialist even went on to blame the era of the mobile phone for the lack of engagement between parents and children.  I have linked at the end of this the government’s official blog for your perusal - a very modified and edited version of some of the Twitter discussion and reports I have read! As I read a range of tweets and articles over the weekend, I could physically feel the tension building in my body. I felt angst for those parents who might be sending their precious children to an environment where perhaps the care is not as one would expect, but also a sense of angst and sorrow for those parents who might not quite understand the huge importance of their children’s early years in their development. I myself was a full time working mum and had to hand over my precious baby at only 10 weeks old (in Japan we only had 10 weeks maternity leave!).  My husband and I chose our nursery very carefully and visited so many different ones - we opted for one where nobody spoke English! However, the love and care that was given to our daughter was outstanding.  They helped to wean her onto solids and with a staple diet of fish paste and tofu it is now no wonder that she will eat absolutely anything!  On return to the UK the search started again for a nursery school where I felt confident that Kiera’s care and development would be outstanding - and luckily we chose well.  However, many families are not quite so fortunate. I have visited settings over the years where the nursery staff stood back from the children, never engaging in their play or discussions. I even took my mobile phone out in one setting and asked if I could make some notes on my app which was allowed by staff, even though this should be a complete No! in any Early Years setting! I have almost cried when leaving some settings as I watched the young children occupy themselves. I am so thankful to Mr. and Mrs. Crehan for their deep rooted love of education and for understanding that there is such a need for outstanding provision for the younger years.  Setting up our Ducklings back in January 2018 has ensured that even more families are able to benefit from the unique care that we provide, and also from the support that we give our families in understanding how parents and school can work hand in hand to give children the best start in life. Our pupils start their formal schooling (in their Reception year) having experienced one if not two years of exceptional nurturing. All our staff in Ducklings, Wrens and Robins give your children an exceptional start in life but of course this is only possible if home and school are working together. As a school we work in partnership with you all to ensure that there is consistency and continuity in your child’s development and learning.  I know that Mrs. Haar and the Ducklings staff are working very closely with Ducklings parents as they go through the toilet training transition in preparation for starting nursery (an area of great discussion with Amanda Speilman!). The introduction of our online platform Tapestry also gives parents of the EYFS children a greater understanding of what we are trying to achieve within the seven prime areas of learning and staff and parents can all work to the same end goal. Communication lies at the heart of all learning - with clear communication skills relationships are built (this is true of children and adults!) Children will learn to read in their own time but the most precious thing that parents and carers can do for children is talk to them, read them stories, encourage children to ask and answer questions.  We will soon be meeting our new Ducklings and Nursery children and parents who will be joining us as part of our St. Helen’s College family from September and I know that they will be welcomed into our community and I cannot wait for another little brood to join us! https://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/education-news/parents-ofsted-amanda-spielman-nursery-children-toilet-potty-a8379046.html https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/amanda-spielman-at-the-pre-school-learning-alliance-annual-conference Mrs. Drummond
Posted on: 18/05/2018

Head's Blog - Celebrating Success And Dealing With Disappointment

Throughout my career, I have often had to bite my tongue when I have heard of schools banning competitive sports days or stopping class assemblies/plays because pupils who did not have the ‘big’ parts felt undervalued and could not accept that the part they had longed for was given to another child.   School staff are educators who facilitate in preparing your children to be able to participate in our future world. We play such a precious part in the cultivation of learning from a very young age. That learning is a cognitive, emotional and social activity and, here at St. Helen’s College, we believe that learning to cope with disappointment and to celebrate success (your own and that of others) is crucial to a happy future life. This term we have so many wonderful events on the school calendar where we celebrate the success of the pupils. The most recent was the Musicians’ Concert, where I was utterly delighted by the phenomenal calibre of performances throughout the evening. I was mesmerised by the focus and concentration of the performers, but also by the supportive environment that the children created for their peers. Their love and support for their friends were evident in their celebration of each other’s performances. I am assured by the pupils from Year 4 upwards that their Mindfulness training courses help them in these challenging situations, and I must admit that I did not notice any errors that evening despite being told by a couple of children afterwards that they had stumbled! Later this term, we will have the major production of a child’s St. Helen’s College journey...the Y6 production. I had the delight of attending some of the auditions for singing and acting parts for this year’s show. Oh yes, the pupils have to audition, just like in the West End! Even our current West End actor Kai (who is currently playing young Simba in Disney’s worldwide hit The Lion King) had to audition just like his peers! There were no exceptions made. What was lovely about this process was that the children recognised each other's efforts and talents and congratulated each other on whatever part they were given. The enthusiasm from every child has been quite overwhelming and Mr. McLaughlin is brimming with pride in how this cohort of Year 6 pupils are working so collaboratively in preparation for this year’s ‘Wizard of Oz’ spectacular! Our Year 1 and Year 2 children are also busy preparing for their big summer productions - and it is in these younger years where we start that process of celebrating the success of everyone who contributes to a year group production, regardless of what part they have been allocated.  I do recall a nativity play I was once casting where the part of the donkey became the starring role….it was the donkey who enabled baby Jesus to be born! In this particular production, the donkey was the real ‘star’ of the show! The child playing the donkey had no words and no dancing to do - just the odd hoof scuff, head jerk and the occasional  ‘Eeew-awww!’ How we all loved that donkey part! The child who played it was so full of pride for many a year to come as she knew she played her part to the best of her ability. Her pride was sparked by the manner in which her fellow pupils and the adults embraced the importance of the ‘donkey’ part in that child’s ‘learning’. In fact, I bumped into the ‘donkey’s’ mother quite recently in Intu shopping centre and we reminisced on how that lowly part of the donkey was so embraced by parents and staff!  ‘Donkey’ is now in her mid 20s and her dad is very successful behind the camera in the film industry. It is lovely that her parents knew that all those years ago that their daughter would be able to deal with disappointment with grace and resilience. Yes, she had wanted to be Mary, but she was not cast as such and she shone in her own way for the part she played. She continues to shine in her learning journey of life! One of the joys of being an educator is the relationships that are built with families. There is a beauty in shared moments where we are able, together, to support children in coping with what they may see as failures or disappointments, and in celebrating all the good times too. School is like a practice for life; there will be challenging times when a child may not be cast in the role they had their hearts set on, or may not come first in the race they had been practising so hard for. Every child will inevitably suffer little knocks, which may seem massive to them. Part of our responsibility as teachers and parents is to help children learn to respond to these disappointments positively. We can teach them not to react in a negative way, but to step back from the situation, acknowledge disappointment or upset and be able to move forward despite these feelings, so that they may make a positive contribution towards the end goal and experience pride in doing so. This is all a crucial part of helping every child on that cognitive, emotional and social journey of life! So as we prepare for the final busy half term, please do help us to support your child in celebrating their successes and efforts and in helping them to deal with any disappointments in a sensitive, kind but pragmatic way - the St. Helen’s College way! I shall not be blogging next week as I will be on the Year 4 residential trip at Flatford Mill. I wish you all a super half term holiday when it comes. Mrs. Drummond        

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