School News and Head's Blog
Posted on: 6/01/2023
Does It Add Up?Happy New Year to you all! The children have very excitedly settled back into their learning and the buzz of excitement around the school is tangible!
I am sure that many of you were interested to hear of Rishi Sunak’s proposal that pupils in England will study maths up until the age of 18. Currently pupils in England are only required to study maths up to the age of 16. Mr. Sunak has stated that we need to "reimagine our approach to numeracy".
At St. Helen’s College we pride ourselves on our approach to the teaching of maths and our ‘challenge for all’ mantra encourages all pupils to achieve highly. But what is fundamental in our lessons is that the children really understand number and its application from the concrete models of numbers to being able to apply their knowledge of maths to more abstract problems and to use this knowledge and understanding across other subjects.
Since Mr. Sunak’s announcement there has been much debate about why there are such issues surrounding how maths is taught to children, with some stating that children should be taught more advanced concepts like multiplication and algebra at a younger age. St. Helen’s College pupils are already exposed to such concepts at a young age and it was inspiring to hear from one of our current Year 6 pupils that her favourite subject was maths because she is able to use it across so many other subjects. Our pupils are aware that they will be required to use data and number in a wide variety of situations and to see the benefits of mathematical understanding as they use data analysis skills in their other learning such as science and geography (tables, graphs, charts). Their analytical skills are certainly being developed at an early age.
I am currently preparing some of our Year 6 pupils for their Year 6 senior school interviews and in a group session we discussed Rishi Sunak’s proposal as any changes may affect them post 16. I was so delighted when one of the pupils responded that she thinks that they should continue to study maths after their GCSEs as they will need maths skills in later life; she went on to give me examples such as buying or planning/designing a house, cooking, measuring, converting money if travelling, having a bank account and more.
One of the statistics being reported is that only four in ten children and young people say they have had some financial education at school. This is an aspect of ‘life skills’ which schools (particularly secondary schools) need to address. But as parents we also have a responsibility to start these life skills in financial education at home at a young age. Children need to learn about money and its value and importance for living. Sadly some children rarely have the opportunity to handle money now and some are not aware of how we ‘earn’ money. So if the penny drops that this may be your child (no pun intended), please take the opportunity to ‘play’ with your children - take them shopping, let them earn pocket money in return for doing chores around the house and let them save for something special. Talk to them about what bank accounts are; as they get older they will be more inquisitive and there is so much learning which can be instigated at home. Many banks now give great support for financial education for parents in how to help their children - see the link here from HSBC, for example.
Our children are not set into ability groups for maths unlike at many other schools; I am sure that we can all remember the stigma attached to being in the ‘top set’ or the ‘bottom set’. We believe that it is every child’s right to be exposed to the same advanced maths language and concepts. Many experts have shared their views on ‘setting’ in maths and one of these is educational consultant David Didau - you can read his views here. As the pupils move through Key Stage 2 here at St. Helen’s College they will have already had time to ‘own’ their learning of mathematical concepts via their ‘Learning Logs’. These are instrumental for teachers for their planning and assessment of learning and, ultimately, for the pupils to identify their strengths and areas of mathematical skill and application.
I am very proud of how our pupils are prepared for their lives ahead and have such an awareness of why we teach what we teach and how we teach it. It is so important that school and home empower our children to enjoy maths, to understand why we learn maths and to give them opportunities to use their mathematical skills and knowledge not only in their other subjects in school but in their everyday lives.
Posted on: 2/12/2022
Diversity, Equality and InclusionDiversity is about recognising, respecting and celebrating difference. It’s acknowledging the benefit of having a range of perspectives in decision-making and the workforce being representative of the communities that the School serves.
Equality means that everyone is treated the same, is treated fairly and has the same opportunities. Equity is slightly different from equality in that it recognises that each person has different circumstances. This means that varying types or levels of support might be required, depending on individual need, to take full advantage of equal opportunities.
Inclusion is where people’s differences are valued and used to enable everyone to thrive at work. An inclusive working/learning environment is one in which everyone feels that they belong without having to conform, that their contribution matters and they are able to perform to their full potential, no matter their background, identity or circumstances.
We are very proud here at St. Helen’s College to have such a diverse and inclusive community. This week we celebrated the start of the Christian celebration of Advent and the pupils have been very excited for the beginning of this special time of year. It has been clear in Upper School assemblies that they are also very aware of the ‘true’ meaning of Christmas and not just obsessed with the commercial aspect of receiving presents on Christmas Day or daily chocolates in their advent calendar.
Our Lower School pupils have given us so much joy already this week with their Year 1 and Reception Nativity Assemblies. Each child owned their part and they have certainly understood and communicated the Christmas story and traditions of Christmas.
Jeremy Vine’s radio show this week had a discussion piece on how many primary schools were becoming non-religious and the decline in the number of schools with Christian principles. I was interested to listen to the discussion but felt such a sense of pride in St. Helen’s College’s approach. We are so inclusive of all religions but retain our strong school values rooted in Christian principles. As parents you all support this and I hope that you also feel that your faiths and religions are included in our school life and recognised in many ways.
Religious beliefs are only one aspect of Diversity, Equality and Inclusion (DEI). Only a couple of weeks ago Mrs. Briggs, our DEI aspect lead, presented to our Education Committee all the wonderful activities and work going on here at school to ensure that we are fulfilling our responsibilities. We are always learning about each other and we have a vibrant and supportive staff, parent and pupil body.
Throughout the school our staff plan lessons and activities within and outside of the curriculum which take the following aspects into account.
Race and diversity.
All of these opportunities allow the children to be prepared for their futures in order for them to contribute to society as well rounded, kind and empathetic individuals.
I am sure that many of you were aware of the sad news that Doddie Weir, who suffered from Motor Neurone disease, died earlier this week. Tonight Rob Burrows, who also has MND, will be the first non-verbal person to read the bedtime story on CBBC using special technology. I urge you to watch this with your children tonight if possible (the link is here). This is another chance to open up discussions about how we are all different and to encourage acceptance of this fact.
Pupils in Upper School recently met Mrs. Briggs' cousin, Jamie Beddard, who has cerebral palsy, in an assembly. I am sure that many of your children spoke to you about this inspirational gentleman who has not allowed his disability to stop him in his acting and directing career. Indeed, his disability has also opened up many other opportunities for him to bring about change.
There is so much for us all to learn and share on DEI but I will end my blog with a quote from the late Doddie Weir from 2019 when he was awarded the Sports Personality of the Year.
“Enjoy the day because you don't know what happens tomorrow.”
Happy weekend everyone!
Posted on: 18/11/2022
Do We Ever Stop Learning?This week we have a guest blog from our Head of Art, Nadine Pruce, who reflects on the importance of being a lifelong learner.
During lockdown I stumbled upon the amazing work of Darrell Wakelam and have followed him on both Instagram and Twitter ever since.
Darrell spent the first thirteen years of his career as the Art Tutor at Ingestre Hall Residential Arts Centre in Staffordshire before moving down to Dorset to set up his business ‘Jekyll & Hyde’ in 2005. Since then, he has provided art workshops and training sessions for hundreds of different organisations including many primary and secondary schools.
As part of my subject leader role for IAPS, I invite an artist to host a workshop for art teachers who are part of the IAPS organisation. This gave me the perfect opportunity to meet him! I sent him an invitation and he responded straight away with a resounding yes; he would love to come and show us how to do what he does.
So on Thursday this week, he came to St. Helen's College along with a dozen art teachers from around the country and we were set to work. The delighted squeals and laughter emitting form the art room would have had you thinking it was a class of children, not grown adults!
Continuous learning is essential to our existence. Just like food nourishes our bodies, ongoing discovery nourishes our minds. Lifelong learning is crucial for every career and organisation. From a simple, fun day with an expert in his field, a dozen art teachers skipped off into the sunset bursting with new ideas and plans of how to include our learning in our student’s lessons. Watch out…next term I will be mainly using cardboard!
'Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.'
Posted on: 14/10/2022
Enlightened EducationLast week I returned to my homeland in Scotland, to attend the annual Heads’ Conference in Edinburgh, which this year brought together 1000 Headteachers from IAPS (Independent Association of Preparatory Schools) and HMC (Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference) Schools. Returning to Edinburgh, where I spent four years studying at University, always fills me with great pride and nostalgia for a city which ignited my love for education and teaching.
The theme of the conference was ‘Enlightened Education’ and there was no better city to host a conference with such a theme. Edinburgh was very much regarded as a centre of enlightenment during the 18th century, when the New Town sprung up to provide changes in law, philosophy, science, literature, the arts, engineering and architecture. Observatories were built, advancements in medicine and microbiology were shaped and Edinburgh became a pioneering beacon of excellence in education. Schools - grammar and independent - were founded by mechant companies to encourage liberal thinking and intellectual curiosity. Edinburgh’s New and Old Towns now sit alongside one another to remind us of fusion, heritage and modernity.
The first keynote speaker of the conference, Marc Randolph, the founder of Netflix, articulated the purpose of education in the spirit of enlightenment. He wants young people to be energised to deal with the uncertainties of the world. As we know from the last few years in particular, we cannot predict the future. So, with a willingness to make mistakes (and learn from them) and a desire to see all problems as having solutions, our pupils will need to be real world ready.
Professor Gabriell Finn from the University of Manchester is leading a university-wide review of assessment and imparted the following key messages.
Factual recall is no longer the focus, and shouldn’t be. There is no link between this and preparing pupils for the real world.
There has been a 16000% increase in the number of students plagiarising their assignments.
GCSEs and A-levels are very far removed from where universities are starting to focus assessment: students collaborating and submitting their own websites rather than tests.
Technology, in particular AI, needs to be a dominant factor in any reform of assessment.
As fellow Heads discussed some of the points raised by the speakers, I felt so proud of what we are doing here at St. Helen’s College. We have a very balanced curriculum, skills and knowledge based, but our pupils' learning skills are far more in line with what universities wish to move towards. This was noted recently by one of our ex-parents who is a university lecturer as she reflected on what her daughter was already achieving with our flipped classroom model of teaching. She was somewhat overwhelmed at how efficient her daughter was as a learner in Year 6 in comparison with some of the first year university pupils she had encountered!
Over the years we have heard the word ‘tolerance’ being used when we discuss diversity. This word should now be replaced with ‘celebration of’. I truly believe that it is one of our defining features at St. Helen’s College that we are such a diverse community - and this extends to neuro-diversity too (a point which was emphasised by Rory Bremner in his most humorous after dinner address).
Baroness Tanni-Grey Thompson further emphasised this ‘celebration’, which 30 years ago would have been labelled as tolerance, as she recalled her experience of growing up as a wheelchair user (it was only because her Headteacher refused to adhere to the local authority guidelines that she was able to attend a mainstream school). She made the point that discrimination is taught and not a learned behaviour, and we must all focus on this - not just for the sake of our individual pupils but for humanity as a whole.
Sarah Brown, Founder and Chair of ‘TheirWorld’ and the Executive Chair of the Global Business Coalition for Education (also once inhabitant of 10 Downing Street) shocked delegates by reminding us that by 2030, half of the world’s young people will not have the privilege of attending school. This seems unbelievable, not least against the backdrop of the UN’s Sustaninable Development Goals, created in 2017 with the goal of achieving them all by 2030. Sarah emphasised that for pupils to be real world ready, there is a moral imperative for them to learn how to look after their world and each other.
Throughout the conference, keynote speakers emphasised that the fundamental aim of education should not be focused around end-point assessment, but the development of a child’s relationship with others, and, through this, the creation of powerful, ethical communities, focused around a force for good.
Nicola Benedetti, world renowned violinist, Artistic Director of the Edinburgh International Festival and founder of the Benedetti Foundation, used the impact of choirs and ensembles to illustrate this point. Within an orchestra or choir, there is no hierarchy and, in creating music together, people are sharing in one humanity. Music played a role throughout the conference and reminded us of the transformational impact of music in everyone’s lives. There is a moral obligation for all young people to be exposed to this form of deep connection and communication.
I hope you can see how passionate I am feeling about many of the topics discussed at the conference. As I reflect on this first half term of St. Helen’s College life I am sure that you will agree that our pupils have demonstrated their own contribution to an enlightened education in so many ways, including:
the wonderful Harvest assemblies and donations;
the musical recital;
the many sporting fixtures;
the various school trips to interesting venues;
âThe Children’s Trust Charity Concert where our Chamber Choir performed;
the TCS Mini London Marathon;
the visit to the Woodlands Care Home by a group of our musicians;
STEAM Day and
St. Helen’s Day.
I could keep listing - there is more, much more!
Thank you for all your support during this first half term. It has been a wonderful beginning to this academic year and I wish you all a restful and energising half term holiday!
Posted on: 30/09/2022
St. Helen's Day by Mrs. CrehanYesterday we celebrated St. Helen's Day - a time to remember our school history in our 98th year.
The children in Years 2 - 6 congregated in the Windsor Garden for an assembly in the afternoon. We had an ex-pupil, Ishil Mehta, reminiscing on the time Mr. Crehan pursued a burglar down Parkway to retrieve a cassette player that was stolen through an open window during the school day. He didn't tell us much about his own life but he is a very successful businessman who is a trustee of the St. Helen's College Trust.
The Year 5 pupils sang us a song which Mrs. Smith and I wrote specially for St. Helen's Day a few years ago about the life of St. Helen herself.
The Head Girl/Boy team gave us the whole history of the school referring to a wonderful display, created by Mrs. Pruce, of photographs of St. Helen's College from 1924 to the present day.
I then told the children a few anecdotes from when our family moved into Cambria when my mother, Mrs Evans, took over the school from the second Head, Mrs. Hempstead, when I was 11 years old. I was remembering that at that time there were no administrative staff and no office. If I or my brother or sister were off school through illness, we had to run down the stairs from our sickbeds, in view of the children who were in a class which is now the library, to answer the phone and take details of prospective pupils. It was very different in those days! The children then asked further questions about what it was like 50ish years ago.
We then had a wonderful event for the alumni and past teachers in the evening. Our present pupils were performing as background music and then leading tours around the school to show the alumni the changes since their day, and also what hasn't changed.
The alumni have all done so well! We had a female professional footballer, a female engineer working on HS2, Oxford and Cambridge university students and a graphic designer who told us that her sister who would have come but was still at work as a BBC climate-change journalist looking into some ecological disaster which has affected the health of people abroad and is being denied by the authorities. And there were many more amazing careers our alumni are now involved in. Hopefully St. Helen's College can claim their good starts which have led to where they are today. We were encouraging them to spread the word to other Old Helenians amongst their family and friends - and they still know many - that we will be having a big celebration for our centenary in two years.
We had many ex-staff who attended including the very first Deputy Head, who used to call Mr. Crehan 'The Boy' when he first started as Head, because he was the youngest member of staff. Mr. McLaughlin said to her, 'I have your room' and she responded, 'I didn't have a room!'
So a great day was had remembering our St. Helen's College family past and present, which is growing by the year and of whom we are so proud!
Posted on: 16/09/2022
Nurturing Our Youngsters
This week I was quite shocked to learn that there are 260 million children around the world who are not in any form of education and 175 million who are not enrolled in any form of pre-primary education.
An interview piece in the TES with Sarah Brown, the founder and chair of global education charity Theirworld, talks about the importance of teachers. Ms Brown says, "I don’t think there’s a person who has success in their lives that doesn’t credit some of that back to a teacher."
The first two weeks of this academic year have been such a pleasure in school as I have breathed in the joy that your children create on a daily basis with their thirst for learning and their willingness to embrace all the experiences each day. However, I would like to add to what Ms Brown states and say that, "I don’t think there’s a person who has success in their lives that doesn’t credit some of that back to a member of the school staff team."
As parents you have chosen St. Helen’s College as your child’s school, investing in your child’s future, and for this we are most grateful. However, the success of your children is also testament to the support you give them at home and to every adult who interacts with them as part of the St. Helen’s College family. Many of our pupils have been with us since they were aged 2 or 3, enjoying the best possible start in life with a wide range of experiences.
The research from ‘Theirworld’ includes these observations:
90% of a child’s brain development takes place between birth and the age of five.
This is why the five elements of nurturing care – health, nutrition, play, learning and protection – are so important for early childhood education and development.
Early years education and development can help identify a child’s learning needs early on, improve their socialisation and set them on the road to reaching their full potential.
Your children are fortunate to have incredibly supportive families and a team of staff who nurture them on a daily basis. The relationship between home and school is crucial. This is why we enlighten parents about how you can support your children in their development in regular meetings throughout the year.
The EYFS (Early Years Foundation Stage) is called such for a reason - it lays the foundation of development for your children to enable them to thrive. The social and emotional aspect is the most important area of learning in very young children and creates the pathway for future learning and development.
Some of you may also have viewed some of our ‘Teddy Talks’ on our ‘Pre-School Parenting’ tab on our school website. They are there to help families with common aspects of raising your children. Our staff have a diverse range of expertise in many areas and sharing this is helpful to our current and prospective parents. If you have never visited our Pre-Parenting area then please do so - you may find some of it very helpful.
I am proud to be the Head of St. Helen’s College and to have such an incredibly skilled and committed staff who all have the best interests of your children at the heart of all that they do, whether that be the teaching or support staff. The relationship between home and school is key and it is this unique partnership which creates the haven of harmony for your children to thrive each and every day.
Posted on: 9/09/2022
The first week of any school year is all about ‘new beginnings’ but up until yesterday, prior to the sad news of the death of Queen Elizabeth II, her Sovereign Majesty, we had not imagined what we would all be experiencing as a nation today.
This morning in school we commemorated the life of Her Majesty in special assemblies and I was proud to observe how our pupils from Year 2 to Year 6 engaged and reflected during the assemblies.
We discussed the St. Helen’s College motto:
Strive for excellence
Help others achieve
Care for each other
We reflected on how Queen Elizabeth II embodied these values, serving her country right up until three days ago when she invited Elizabeth Truss to be our new Prime Minister. I am sure that we may all have special memories of occasions or events that stand out in our minds when Queen Elizabeth made an impact on the lives of others as she carried out her duties with such selfless service.
I have my own very special memory of when I met the Queen in 1986, when I volunteered at the Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh as a VIP Hostess looking after dignitaries and guests. I was honoured to be selected to be on Royal Box duty for several days at the Meadowbank Athletics Stadium and greeted the Royal Family as a guard of honour on their entrance one day. We curtsied to the Queen and she congratulated us on the role we were playing for the Games and told us to keep up the good work! The fun side of the Queen came out that day as the audience cheered on the athletes and a Mexican wave started to make its way around the stadium. Despite the security announcements begging the people in the stands not to participate in the Mexican wave, the younger Royal (Prince Edward) wholeheartedly took to his feet and waved his arms in the air. Of course as VIP hostesses we followed instructions and remained calm and composed (or I thought I had - but this photo may tell a different story!). The photo shows the fun of the moment and the Queen had that twinkle in her eye as she saw her son being the young royal rebel! I was then privileged to join the Royal Party for afternoon tea - despite my shaking hands and my naive awkwardness as a 19 year old I still hold those memories fondly.
Your children will experience great changes in their lives and this is such a monumental historical time for us all as we transition to having a King on the throne.
Please speak with your children and share your memories, listen to their feelings and embrace this period of change. Queen Elizabeth II’s death on September 8th 2022 marks the beginning of a new era for the House of Windsor.
I leave you with the prayer we shared today.
God, Our Father, all through our country we are sad at this time, because our Queen is no longer with us. She will be missed by so very many, but we know that you are looking after her. Bless those close to her. May they know they are remembered by us. And bless our country at this time of change. May we all work together as one family, and be ready to serve others as our Queen served us. In Jesus' name we ask it. Amen.
May Her Royal Majesty Queen Elizabeth II rest in peace. God Bless.
Category / Head's Blog