School News and Head's Blog
Posted on: 5/10/2018
Reflections on the Heads' Conference - Head's BlogLast 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
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.
Posted on: 21/09/2018
Being At Home With Your School - Head's Blog
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.
Posted on: 14/09/2018
The Power Of Everyday Heroes - Head's BlogAt 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.
Posted on: 7/09/2018
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!
Posted on: 6/07/2018
The Chartered College of Teaching - Head's BlogWhen 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’.
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.
P.S. The Frey and Osborne report puts the probability that teachers will be automated at less than 1%!
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
Mindfulness For Very Young Children by Mrs. CrehanGreetings 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!
Posted on: 15/06/2018
Which School Did You Come From? - Head's BlogIt 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.