School News and Head's Blog
Posted on: 8/06/2018
Quality Early Years Provision - Head's BlogMany 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!
Posted on: 18/05/2018
Celebrating Success And Dealing With Disappointment - Head's BlogThroughout 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.
Posted on: 11/05/2018
Outdoor Learning by Miss WalkerNo doubt many of us were outside with our families enjoying the long bank holiday weekend last week. Being outside in the fresh air, engaging with our surroundings and being away from ‘screens’ I’m sure made us all feel good. There is a growing awareness of the benefits of the ‘outside’ in society and in particular for our wellbeing. For example, patients with a natural view from their window recover more quickly and require fewer painkillers than those who look out onto cityscapes. Being outside reduces the production of stress hormones, lowers blood pressure and boosts our immune system. Being exposed to the ‘outside’ as a child develops and instils lifelong benefits which are not developed if children remain inside too much during their formative years.
Research into the educational benefits of outdoor learning is growing too, with studies suggesting that outdoor learning can enhance cognitive abilities. This may lead to improved understanding of concepts and ideas, promote collaboration and meta learning, foster engagement, creativity and innovation and allow pupils’ confidence to flourish. We are proud that St. Helen’s College has, for many years, led the way, with an extensive co-curriculum programme of opportunities for our pupils to experience outdoor learning, including residential trips, day trips and visits to the local park. In fact I write this blog after another fantastic day spent outside on a residential trip, this week with Year 3!
However, over the past 18 months we have been incorporating more and more outdoor learning opportunities throughout the school and across all curriculum areas. We are determined to make the most of the beautiful school grounds we have at our disposal to support and enhance a creative and engaging curriculum through outdoor learning. As part of a UCL leadership course I completed in 2017, I ran a 12 month project to assess the impact outdoor learning had on our pupils and the results were compelling. 89% of pupils reported learning outdoors made them feel happier and more confident and 96% felt they learnt better outdoors. In interviews, pupils’ comments included, “examples in the playground were exciting, challenging and fun and helped me understand”, “you actually know how to do something because you get to do it”, “we get more involved together” and “fresh air stimulates my brain!”. Teachers also reported increased motivation and accelerated learning, progress in attainment and improved pupil self esteem.
As I walk around the school now I often see maths lessons investigating and measuring angles in nature, art lessons using natural materials to make pictures or sculptures and music lessons where children are making and recording compositions created using natural objects. Amidst it all, I see happy and engaged children and our teachers’ passion for teaching. It is little wonder then that we are taking part in Outdoor Classroom Day next Thursday, 17th May. This is a day to showcase and celebrate our commitment to outdoor learning but also share common goals with schools across the UK and the world in promoting the benefits of outdoor learning. Throughout the day our pupils will be challenged and inspired whilst learning outside the classroom. For more information about Outdoor Classroom Day please visit the website here.
Today as I watched our Y3 pupils’ growing sense of wonder and awe as they soaked up being in nature and learning through nature I was reminded of the William Henry Davies poem ‘Leisure’. In an ever busy and stressful world, its words resonate as a call for us all to be outside more and to find the time ‘to stand and stare’.
Leisure - By William Henry Davies
What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.
No time to turn at Beauty's glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.
No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.
A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
We hope that parents, too, will find time to enjoy the beautiful outdoors with children, friends and extended families.
Posted on: 27/04/2018
The Positive Ps of PREP - Head's BlogPRACTICE *** PARTICIPATION *** PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT
PARENT-CHILD RELATIONS *** PARENT-TEACHER COMMUNICATION
There have been years of debate in educational forums regarding the value of homework. In some maintained schools they have stopped giving pupils homework, claiming that it puts pupils who do not have support from home at a disadvantage. I am not about to be drawn into the debate as to whether children should or should not be ‘learning’ outside of school. I believe that children are naturally inquisitive and will learn if the learning is relevant, interesting and they are able to make connections to their prior learning or it prepares them for future learning.
Over the years I have worked in schools who have called ‘homework’ various things. ‘Home learning’ which perhaps takes the stigma of the labour of ‘work’ away from its name (work is something adults do to earn a living). In other schools it has been called ‘Prep’ - namely because it is ‘Preparation’ for the next day to further develop knowledge, understanding and skills.
Here at St. Helen’s College for pupils in Y3-Y6 we are now offering supervised ‘Prep’ as part of the Funtasia routine. The pupils have some down time after school, play with their friends, have some tea then go upstairs to one of the Year 6 classrooms where they have a calm, peaceful environment to ‘prepare’ for the next step of their learning, for the next day at school. Pupils have access to the chromebooks/laptops if needed and a member of our staff supervises and supports the pupils as necessary.
This week it was delightful to hear that some children had wanted to start their ‘Prep’ as soon as they arrived at Funtasia - so eager were they to continue their learning! On Tuesday I joined about 16 pupils during ‘Prep’ and was so impressed by their dedicated participation and by the pride they were all taking in their tasks. There were pupils writing their spelling sentences, researching WWII evacuees and making notes, using their flipped learning resource to practise some mathematical concepts….the tasks were wide ranging but each task was preparing the children for what lies ahead. ‘Prep’ at Funtasia is not compulsory; however, as a parent myself with a child in a Preparatory School some time ago, I know that it took a lot of pressure off us as a family. We would arrive home from our busy days and as parents we would still engage in what our daughter had completed in ‘Prep’ but we never had what can be for some families a ‘battle’ to start homework at perhaps 7 p.m. These situations are not constructive or useful to anyone!
For younger pupils, the Funtasia staff are always happy to hear the children read for some of the time too - but this does not replace the daily reading which is still expected at home between the adults and children.
'Prep’ should be completed in a quiet, calm environment. Do praise your child's efforts in their ‘prep’ but keep expectations high! If you know they really have not focussed or the task has been completed in a slapdash manner - do feel free to jot a note in their homework diary. (Mmm! Perhaps we need to rename them for next year to ‘Prep Diary’!)
You may find this blog of further interest:
Posted on: 19/04/2018
Nurturing The Love Of Writing - Head's BlogThere has been recent debate in the news on the detrimental effects of touch screen devices on the development of young children’s handwriting skills.
Over the past ten years there has been a rapid increase in the use of ipads and other touch screen devices and young babies and toddlers are amazing parents with their incredible use of swiping actions as they navigate the apps on their parents’ phones or tablets.
Personally, I am saddened when I see youngsters in restaurants glued to tablets while the adults engage in social conversation. Don’t get me wrong – I am not against the use of technology! Indeed, some of the games and apps being developed for young children are super for encouraging the development of certain skills. However, recent research has seen a decline in children’s handwriting skills caused by the lack of dexterity and movement skills needed to hold a pencil.
Traditional craft activities such as playdoh, drawing, painting, cutting and sticking, threading beads or doing jigsaws seem to be disappearing with the influx of technology. These activities can play a crucial part in developing the fine motor skills needed by children as they grow, including their handwriting skills.
Handwriting skills are important and I am sure that many of you will fully support me in this. There are some people who feel that it does not matter if you are able to have good handwriting or not as the use of technology increases. However, I am pleased to say that here at St. Helen's College we pride ourselves on teaching the children handwriting skills and there is great excitement as they work towards gaining their ‘pen licence’ in Middle School. I am sure many of you were impressed at the quality of the handwriting and writing on display at Exhibition Day recently.
Over the Easter holidays I was touched as I received several postcards from children who had written to their classes from their holiday travels. I urge you as parents to continue to encourage all of your children to take pride and joy in the art of handwriting. I hope that many of our children still write thank you letters to family and friends for gifts that they receive on special occasions. You could also encourage your children to keep a diary and/or reflections book, to compile written fact files or to have a go at writing stories...writing should be enjoyable, relevant and fun!
Our Year 3 pupils and Year 6 pupils have the opportunity to write penpal letters to children in Spain and France – and so practise not only their handwriting, but also writing in a foreign language!
I have fond memories of writing activities as a child. I kept a diary from about the age of 8 right through to my teenage years! I recently found these in my mother’s attic and spent hours reminiscing, laughing and cringing about some of what I had written!
There was a magazine called ‘Blue Jeans’ which had penpal pages and for over three years I wrote to a lovely girl in Zambia who lived in a convent school. Sadly I have lost touch with her but the joy of receiving her air mail letters I still remember. I was fortunate to keep in touch with my childhood French penpal and met up with her and her family on a holiday to France some 20 years later.
My husband seems to have forgotten that we spent several months in different countries many moons ago when we were dating – but I still have all the lovely handwritten letters we wrote to each other!
These are all examples of such special memories, all kept on paper for years to come, and of relationships built by the power of the pen. And all this before the influx of technology.
Last term we discussed how we need to model reading to children and to be seen by our children reading a book for pleasure, relaxing and enjoying texts. The same could also be said for writing.
So this term, I challenge you all to share the love of writing and to show your children that you still value the skill of handwriting. Write a letter to someone who you have not seen for a while, start a reflective journal (these are really useful for the work place!), or write with your children on a shared writing activity: a poem, a shared family travel journal over the duration of a holiday, or a story/play that you create together.
Posted on: 16/03/2018
Saving Water - Children Are The Future by Mr. Lewis
When it comes to saving water, the children are the future
When scientists search for life on other worlds, they begin by looking for water. Water is vital for life and yet in the affluent West we take it for granted, wasting it, polluting it and disrupting the water cycle. Next Thursday is the United Nations World Water Day and, to coincide with this, Waterwise will be running a UK Water Saving Week. Each day will have a theme with a downloadable pack full of ideas, information, challenges, posters, infographics and water saving tips.
I must declare an interest in water efficiency. I grew up in Cape Town - the first modern city to declare a day on which it will run out of water. The date has been pushed back from mid-April but when Day Zero comes, homes will not be supplied with running water and residents will need to queue for water rations. Cape Town’s annual rainfall is greater than London’s and its population is less than half of ours but a recent drought and mismanagement have led to the crisis.
Of course, in some places fresh, clean water is even more difficult to come by than just having to queue for it. Eight years ago, my 16 year old daughter and I volunteered in a rural village in Ghana. It was near a lake but due to poor infrastructure there was no fresh running water available so water was trucked from elsewhere and sold in plastic bags. We were unable to wash properly and my daughter became seriously ill. This experience was one of the motivators for her to study water science and governance, which has led her to co-ordinating Water Saving Week. We may have hopes and plans for our children’s careers but it is their life experiences that will lead them to their vocation.
At St. Helen’s College, the children are better informed than most about water, its importance for life and the consequences of water scarcity and contamination. It is a significant part of the Year 5 geography curriculum. The children investigate the processes and infrastructures that get clean water to our homes in the UK and, in partnership with Affinity Water, they undertake a STEM water pipe engineering challenge. They look at water pollution case studies to understand how the environment can become damaged and they look for ways to save water in their daily lives. They learn about parts of the world where clean water is scarce and the impact that this has on the communities and particularly the children.
Please discuss saving water with your children and visit the Water Saving Week website. If they would like to write a poem or create a poster about water we will submit it to Waterwise and we may even win a prize.
You may also want to look at World Water Day and the main Waterwise website.
Posted on: 9/03/2018
Child Welfare by Mrs. SmithThe Oxford English Dictionary offers two definitions of the word ‘welfare’:
‘Statutory procedure or social effort designed to promote the basic physical and material well-being of people in need’.
‘The health, happiness and fortunes of a person or group’.
Thankfully, we live in a country where much is made of the need to look after ‘child welfare’ by the government, by charities and by the press. There are, necessarily, guidelines issued to ensure that families, schools and other services make sure that the ‘basic physical and material well-being’ needs of children are met. There are objective measures which can be taken to check that this is happening and it is certainly happening here at St. Helen’s College. However, the second definition of welfare is equally interesting. How do we, as a school, know whether we are doing well at looking after the ‘happiness and fortunes of a person or group’?
Today I saw a very sweet interaction on the steps outside of my office window at morning break time. There were five girls altogether, and one girl did not have a snack with her today. Two of her friends immediately offered to share their snacks with her, and the other two quickly followed suit. However, one then pointed out that they perhaps should not do this, in case the first girl had any allergies or wasn’t allowed to eat what the others had brought. A brief discussion ensued, before the first girl and one of her friends decided that they would visit the school office to let staff know that she was snack-less, and rather hungry.
Interested to see the outcome of this little vignette, I popped into the office in time to see the conversation between the girls and Miss Lang, our Welfare Officer. Miss Lang sympathised with the child who had forgotten her snack, and thanked her friend for accompanying her to the office. Having checked the child’s dietary requirements, Miss Lang then offered her a choice of the banana she had brought in for her own mid-morning snack, or a plain biscuit from the ‘staff stash’. The girl chose the banana, thanked Miss Lang and went away happy.
This story typifies, for me, what ‘welfare’ is about at St. Helen’s College. It is not just about the meeting of basic needs. It is about kindness, empathy and working together to ensure that children feel included, valued and loved. In another school, the girl might just have got through the morning without a snack. No permanent damage would have been done and her ‘basic physical well-being’ would not have been compromised. But here at St. Helen’s College, her welfare was actively promoted by her friends and by the staff. They imagined how she might feel at being the only one without a snack (hungry, a bit left out, a bit forgotten) and they worked hard to make sure that she did not feel those things. I feel sure that, if she were to forget her snack again, the same thing would happen. I think that Miss Lang would probably also telephone her parents to remind them, kindly, to help her to remember her snack in future – after all, Miss Lang’s personal fruit supply can only stretch so far!
This is at the heart of what makes St. Helen’s College a special place. Everyone in our ‘family’ looks out for each other; everyone is prepared to go that extra mile, sharing what they have and helping others to feel safe and cared for. We don’t just meet the ‘basic physical and material well-being needs’ of our children; by teaching and enacting the school’s values, we help every child to feel involved, looked after and glad to be with us. When a child feels involved, looked after and glad, they instinctively want to help others feel that way too. So they, and we, actively promote ‘the happiness and fortunes’ of our group.