School News and Head's Blog
Posted on: 28/01/2022
The Power Of SleepAre you a lark or an owl? Chronotype is the natural inclination of your body to sleep at a certain time. I’m definitely a lark; I wake up at 5.15 a.m. and visit my horse before getting ready for school, and I am happily at my desk by about 7 a.m. However, come 9.30 p.m. I am basically done and I’m ready for my bed! Now, I know that my advancing years may impact my early evening bedtime but I do strongly believe that having a good night's sleep is absolutely paramount.
I am not alone in this belief. Research tells us that good sleep is essential for the whole family, which is why we spend a third of our lives doing it!
Sleep is the foundation for good health. It affects every single part of our body, it affects our eating habits, exercise, hormones, immunity, learning, memory, creativity, decision making, mood and behaviour. While we sleep our brain is creating links and making memories. Put simply, sleep is replenishing and repairing.
We have been discussing our value of fairness this week and it has been fascinating to hear the children’s perceptions on what they feel is fair. Numerous children with older siblings have spoken about how they feel it is unfair that their sibling gets to go to bed later than them. I urge you not to succumb to your child bemoaning that their bedtime is too early and give sleep the kudos it deserves. By teaching your child/children to have a bedtime routine that precedes a good night's sleep, you are giving them a wonderful skill for life.
I refer back to my sleep routine. Yes, I get up early but I go to bed early too, meaning that I am getting the recommended 7-9 hours for an adult.
The recommended amount differs for children according to their age. For example, 5 year olds need 11 hours a night, while 9 year olds need 10 hours. You can see the NHS guidelines for recommended sleep times here:
Routine is key and doing the same relaxing things in the same order will greatly support your sleep pattern. For example, a warm bath, dimmed lights and a shared story. I am an advocate of mindfulness and will often practice the ‘body scan’ meditation just before I go to sleep. I have to be honest and admit that I often don’t get past my knees before I nod off!
Avoid screen time before bed. This wouldn’t be my blog if I didn’t mention the perils of screen time at some point! But once again I am backed by research, so please do try to keep your bedrooms a screen free zone - ye,s I mean you too, mums and dads!
So, referring back to our current value - be fair to your family and yourself and never underestimate the power of sleep!
Posted on: 14/01/2022
Staying SafeWe pride ourselves at St. Helen’s College on ensuring that your children are well looked after and remain safe in our care. However, we also have the responsibility, along with you as parents, to ensure that the children understand how to stay safe when they are not under our supervision and that we are preparing them for life.
The simple definition of safety is being ‘free from harm or risk: unhurt or secure from threat of danger, harm, or loss.’
There are many aspects of our curriculum which build upon this and our school behaviour mantra ‘Ready, Respectful, Safe’ helps to embed the principle of safety. We ‘teach’ road safety, first aid and water safety (as part of the swimming programme). We encourage a healthy lifestyle with good nutrition and physical exercise and our PSHCE curriculum promotes well-being and good mental health, incorporating aspects such as stranger danger, inappropriate touching, mindfulness, positive psychology and peer support.
As you are all aware, online safety is an increasingly important aspect of safety, in which it is crucial that home and school are supporting children from a very young age. As part of our ‘Pre-Parenting Programme’ for preschoolers we have focussed one of our Teddy Talks on digital awareness - it can be viewed here.
On Tuesday this week, we welcomed Paul Hay back to St. Helen’s College. Paul is an Internet Safety Consultant (Paul’s website can be viewed here) and he has trained with CEOP (Child Exploitation and Online Protection) as a training ambassador. This was Paul’s fifth visit to St. Helen’s College and pupils, staff and parents yet again benefitted from his expertise. Paul’s visit is part of our ongoing programme to help keep children safe online. Although we have software to control internet access at school and children work under supervision, it is through education that we can keep the children safe wherever they are. Rather like road safety, we need to hold children's hands when they are young but teach them how to be safe when we are not there. We discuss safety and well-being in PSHCE and computing lessons every year and in Year 5 the children build their own websites on the subject. Topics covered include stranger danger and keeping information secret but of equal importance is the children’s own behaviour online and ensuring they are as kind and honest online as they are in the playground.
Reception and Year 1
Paul shared the story of ‘Smartie the Penguin’ to capture the children’s attention and taught them a short snappy song about what to do if they came across something that troubled them on the internet - you may wish to view the story here.
The words of the song are a simple ditty for pupils and parents to share:
“Before you tap and click….
You need to stop and think…
And TELL someone!”
Years 2, 3 & 4
In advance of Paul’s visit the class teachers had shared a video with the pupils on ‘Playing Games’ - the video can be viewed here.
The key tips from Paul’s session following discussions with the children were:
1. People online may be not be who they say they are.
2. Be nice to people online.
3. Do not share private information.
4. If you are worried - tell an adult.
Years 5 & 6
The pupils took part in a ‘Private Information Exercise 2021’ which highlighted to the pupils the importance of not sharing personal information and revisited them being aware of ‘strangers’ online and the importance of speaking to adults if they feel uncomfortable about any activity they have online.
All our teaching staff also participated in a session after school with Paul and it was reassuring to know that all that we do as part of our normal routines was ratified by him in his talk to us. Paul was pleased that staff and parents have access to the National Online Safety website with training and weekly updates. If you have not already registered with NOS (National Online Safety) please do so here and you will be able to self register as part of the St. Helen’s College membership. I attach at the end of this blog the jpeg of one of December’s weekly updates on age-appropriate content. Each week there are very useful updates - this week’s happens to be all about ‘Fortnite’.
It was great to see so many of our parents attending the evening session with Paul via Zoom and we are grateful for your continued support in keeping your children safe online. At school our systems are very secure and the children are not able to access content which is not suitable. It is equally important that parents are doing their best to ensure that your children’s online activities are as safe as possible. Paul’s website (here) has lots of superb links and help and he is more than happy for parents to email him with any questions which they may have. Please feel free to email him on email@example.com.
For those of you who were unable to attend the parent session we have a recording of the talk which may be accessed here.
As always it is gratifying to know that home and school are all striving to do our best to keep the pupils of St. Helen’s College safe but also to prepare them for this digital world which is ever changing but such an exciting world to be part of!
Posted on: 7/01/2022
Perseverance leads to HappinessHappy New Year to one and all! It is a joy to be back at school with our pupils and staff. The cold, crisp, blue skies of recent mornings have been such an invigorating start to this new term.
In the first assembly of this term our new school value of ‘Perseverance’ was introduced to the children along with the Action for Happiness calendar for January (feel free to download).
We are encouraging everyone to focus on small steps to try to boost happiness - for ourselves and others around us - to spread kindness and hopefully inspire others to do the same. Some days this may not be as easy as it sounds and perseverance is required. It is often easy to feel frustrated when we are challenged by something or someone, easy to give up, walk away or even respond in a negative way. However, if we can all nurture the quality that allows someone to continue trying to do something even though it is difficult, by persevering it can often lead to ‘happiness’. Happiness is an emotional state characterised by feelings of joy, satisfaction, contentment, and fulfilment. While happiness has many different definitions, it is often described as involving positive emotions and life satisfaction. Happiness is generally linked to experiencing more positive feelings than negative.
To help us all become more aware of our happiness the children have been challenged to create their own ‘Happiness Jars’. A happiness jar is quite simply a container in which you put a daily or weekly note of gratitude. On a piece of paper, write down one good thing that has happened or one thing you are grateful for that day, fold it up and pop it into the jar. My empty ‘Percy Pig’ jar has made a superb ‘happiness jar’ and I have already popped my first gratitude note for what made me happy in my jar. As I explained to the children in assembly, I will choose when I need to dip into my happiness jar to reflect on my happy moments to savour the gratitude and joy I experienced. It may be that I choose to do this regularly or wait until the end of the year to reflect upon my happy moments of 2022. We can choose when we may need to be boosted and reminded of the good things in our lives.
I wish you all a very ‘Happy’ start to 2022 and good health as we take steps into the next phase of our turbulent journey through this pandemic time we are living in. Let us take time each day to be grateful for our families, friends and each other.
Posted on: 10/12/2021
Self-CareWe live in a world of myriad opportunities, one in which the temptation is strong for adults and children alike to over-schedule ourselves as we attempt to take advantage of the wealth of activities on offer. This can be a very good thing in many ways: one of the pillars of mental health is to keep learning, to keep growing, to discover new things and forge new relationships. But there is a danger, too, that we might over-commit ourselves or our children to a timetable of class after class, activity after activity, in an effort to ‘make the most’ of ourselves and our time.
There is another way to ‘make the most’ of ourselves, though, and that is through self-care. St. Helen’s College is, as all parents, children and staff will know, an extremely busy place. Every day, pupils engage in a different series of academic lessons and enrichment activities, physical play and education, team sports, art, music and drama opportunities, performance rehearsals, technological discovery, clubs and social gatherings. We are proud of the diverse and challenging nature of the education we offer, but we are also particularly proud of the ways in which we are able to teach children about the importance of self-care and to offer opportunities for self-care here at school too.
Through teaching Mindfulness and offering moments of stillness and Mindfulness practice in assemblies, we equip children with the tools to calm their minds, recognise unhealthy thoughts and regroup mentally and emotionally. In Philosophy for Children sessions, too, pupils are encouraged to listen without judgement and to take time to examine, formulate and accept thoughts and feelings that may be alien or worrying at first. Our Wellbeing Focus Days give the opportunity for staff and children to step outside of the ‘daily grind’ (fun as it so often is) and consider how we can support ourselves and others to stay healthy and well, both mentally and physically. Through these days, children are introduced to simple practices like journal keeping or art therapy that can really help to underpin positive and ongoing mental health.
Class teachers run regular tutorials and circle time sessions with their classes, both individually and as a group, which give children the opportunity to talk about their experiences and make sense of them as well as to consider both their own targets and how they may best support one another. We are enormously fortunate, too, to have Mrs. Brooker, our qualified school counsellor, who is able to offer children ‘time to talk’ in a non-judgemental space. When we experience the power of someone else being able to hold our feelings, quietly and strongly, with unconditional positive regard for us, we learn that we can do this for ourselves, too. What an amazing thing to learn at a young age.
For those who work in schools, finding time for self-care in term time can be a tricky business, and never more so than over the last two years since the onset of the Covid pandemic. This term, several staff members have suffered from Covid and other winter bugs; many are, at this stage of term, quietly enduring mounting tiredness and the onset of burnout: the mornings are early and cold, the late nights and evening meetings take their toll. The emotional strain of trying to be and give of your best self, all day every day, in order to enrich children’s experiences and give them the correct support and challenge can be exhausting. Add in an inspection week for good measure and it has undeniably been a tiring term. It is a testament to our amazing staff and their genuine love for your children that they do not complain and that they continue to give of their best selves every single day. My hope for each one of them is that they find time for plenty of self-care over the Christmas break.
It is, as you will all know, extremely tough to be a parent, too. Sleep-deprived nights, early mornings, emotional children, hormones, juggling those work/home schedules, attempting to make sense of homework, trying to find time to be a good partner, a good mother, a good father, a good daughter, a good son, a good friend, being everyone’s taxi driver...it can be overwhelming at times. So it is crucial that you take time for self-care too, whether that is an hour at the gym, curling up with a cup of tea and a good book, social time with friends and family or just a few minutes of quiet time to focus on your own breathing. Taking time for yourself is not a luxury, but a necessity. It can and will support you in being ‘good’ or ‘useful’ to others. I recommend, in particular, trying a simple Mindfulness practice each day or as often in the week as you are able.
The St. Helen’s College community has always been wonderful at taking care of each other. Now, ahead of the busy festive period, I encourage us all not to feel guilty about taking time to care for ourselves.
Happy Christmas to you all.
Posted on: 12/11/2021
Being Happy and KindIf you have already read this week’s newsletter you will know that this Saturday is World Kindness Day.
Much has been written about ‘happiness and kindness’ and it goes without saying that if we all showed each other more kindness we would have a much happier world.
Every day here at St. Helen’s College we see kindness demonstrated in so many ways. Staff show genuine care and kindness towards the pupils, modelling how to treat others with compassion and goodwill. We see that kindness being replicated in the children’s behaviour to each other and in acts of kindness towards the local and global community too. Children are frequently observed or overheard asking each other how they are feeling, with real care, and taking action if a child is not feeling at their happiest. Our Friendship Benches are used at playtimes: if a child finds themself with no-one to play with, they sit on one of these benches and it is only moments before another child approaches them to ensure that they are included. Our Playground Pals take specific responsibility for showing kindness to their peers in the playground and for encouraging kind and inclusive play.
Children also spot and acknowledge each other’s kindness and other values through our Value Spotters system, writing golden notes about each other’s helpfulness and other qualities. We then celebrate these acts of kindness and compassion in our assemblies to reinforce how important and meaningful they are.
Staff, parents and children show great kindness, too, through support for charitable initiatives. Earlier in the term, parents and staff made many generous donations for Harvest, which were distributed amongst those in need of food in our local community. Kindness has again been demonstrated at school this week through our fundraising for the Royal Legion’s Poppy Appeal. We have ensured that the children understand the significance of Remembrance Day, discussing the bravery and - yes - kindness of those men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country. We have looked, too, at the kindness of those who run and support the Royal British Legion, helping veterans and their families and keeping these important memories alive so that we may all continue to feel thankful for our current freedoms. Next week, we will be supporting Children in Need and will be discussing further the importance of showing kindness to those less fortunate than ourselves: not simply through raising money, but through our own selfless acts of kindness. We can all offer to help neighbours and friends or, in other ways, bring joy to those who may not experience it often enough. For example, over the years, St. Helen’s College children have made many visits to local care/nursing homes to bring joy to the elderly with their singing or by talking to them or sending them cards or letters. During the Covid pandemic, which pushed us all to think even more about kindness to others, St. Helen’s College children created artwork to decorate a ‘rainbow room’ at a local hospital to cheer up NHS staff as they battled through what were surely the hardest weeks and months of their careers.
It is crucial that we show each other kindness as adults too, of course. As an avid supporter of the organisation ‘Action for Happiness’ I share their monthly calendars with staff. This month’s calendar is named ‘New Ways November’ and it encourages us to give thought to doing different things or doing the same things but in a different way. While I am well aware that St. Helen’s College parents are some of the kindest people around, I encourage you to take a look. Perhaps by embracing some of these tips you may find a new level of happiness and find yourself being kinder to yourselves and to others as a by-product!
The relationship between kindness and happiness is indisputable. By being kind to others, we can produce happiness for them and ourselves. Some of the greatest figures in history have acknowledged this and used it as a basis for carrying out meaningful humanitarian work. I will leave you with this quote from Mother Theresa - a wonderful maxim which we may all strive to fulfil:
‘Spread love everywhere you go. Let no-one ever come to you without leaving happier.’
Have a kind, happy weekend!
Posted on: 5/11/2021
Eco AwarenessAs an accredited Eco-School, we have been watching the COP26 summit with interest this week. We are delighted that world leaders have once again come together in a high profile forum to discuss the issues that are of greatest concern in our world today, most notably climate change.
Some years ago Mr. Lewis, our Director of Studies, undertook a United Nations climate change teaching course and he is now leading an initiative to ensure that all St. Helen’s College teaching staff - and many other, non-teaching staff - undertake up to date climate change training so that this continues to be given the highest priority in the classrooms and daily life of St. Helen’s College.
This morning, our Year 6 children took part in a session from ‘The Great Big Lesson’, endorsed by the Eden Project and Cambridge Zero, and broadcast live from COP26. They celebrated nature and discussed the most pressing issues threatening our environment today. It is frightening to think of the damage being done to our world, but enormously heartening to hear our pupils - the leaders of the future - speak so passionately on the subject.
As parents will know, at St. Helen’s College we have been talking about and teaching about climate change for many years. More than that, we take daily action to reduce our own impact on the environment and to encourage our children to take responsibility for their actions and how they affect the world around them. Through our Eco Reps system, we appoint children to positions of eco-responsibility. They drive eco-awareness amongst their peers and staff throughout the school, promoting initiatives to reduce waste and electricity usage and to recycle. Over the last few years, they have monitored and reduced food waste in the school, driven litter-picking schemes and more.
Two current examples are our participation in the excellent Recycle to Read scheme and our promotion of Switch-Off Fortnight. Last half term, pupils, parents and staff throughout the school donated unwanted toys and electrical items which will be collected and recycled so that they do not become landfill. The school will then receive a donation from Collins Publishers to buy new books. We are very grateful to everyone who took part in this initiative.
Next week pupils and staff at school, led by the Eco Team, will take part in Switch Off Fortnight. Switch Off Fortnight is a campaign that encourages everyone to become interested in saving energy and cutting their carbon footprint. Not only will we make additional energy savings at school, but we would like to encourage everyone to take the switch off challenge home, where families can take part in saving energy too. The more people involved, the greater the energy savings will be, which in turn will help our environment. The Eco Team will kick start Switch Off Fortnight during Monday's assembly and it will last from Monday 8th November until Friday 20th November. Throughout the fortnight the Eco Team will carry out several audits to see how many lights and appliances have been left on in their classrooms. The class who saves the most energy will be awarded Eco Class of the week. One small click can make a big difference!
The school also has a textile recycling bank outside our entrance at 227 Long Lane. Parents, pupils, staff and members of the local community can pop any unwanted textiles into the bank and nothing placed in there will end up as landfill. Suitable items are recycled and donated to those in need, and anything that cannot be used in this way is recycled and made into industrial cleaning cloths. In addition, we have recently signed up for the Plastic Free Schools Campaign, and will now be working to stop any single use plastics at school and to become an accredited plastic free school.
We know that many parents are as passionate about the crusade against climate change as we are. If any of you have ideas of other schemes in which the school can take part, or other ways to educate our pupils and ourselves about these big issues, please do contact us. Our Eco Team is led at school by Mrs. Mann and Mrs. Reid, and they would always be pleased to hear from you. You can contact them on the email addresses below.
One of the greatest strengths of St. Helen’s College has always been the mutually supportive, respectful partnership between home and school. Working together, we really can help to protect our environment. Please do take part in Switch Off Fortnight and create lasting energy-saving habits, and please do remain aware of your impact on the world around you at all times. Each one of us can make a real difference, both in our daily lives and in how we educate and model behaviour to our children. Who knows, some of them may attend COP36 or COP46 one day!
Posted on: 8/10/2021
Emerging With Ambition
A couple of weeks ago I attended the IAPS (Independent Association of Preparatory Schools) Heads' Conference in Bournemouth. It was the first time in two years that 400 Head Teachers had been able to come together for this annual conference and the theme of the three days was very poignant indeed - ‘Emerging with Ambition’.
As the conference was launched, the CEO of IAPS, Christopher King, addressed us and shared some of the highlights of good practice which make IAPS schools beacons of excellence. As I sat in the auditorium I was filled with pride watching a promotional video where our Lower School pupils and beautiful facilities were showcased. Chris King then went on to specifically mention St. Helen’s College and how we have been incredibly innovative in our preschool parenting Teddy Talk videos and baby mindfulness classes. During the tea break, several Heads approached me to discuss how we had managed to do so much during a pandemic. It is evident that St. Helen’s College is not just ‘emerging with ambition’ from a pandemic but that throughout the pandemic we actively were ‘driven with ambition’ or in the words of our aims, written by our pupils, we strive for excellence, help everyone achieve and care for each other. Our staff work so well together and it is the shared ambition from our whole community that makes us so unique.
The three days of conference were inspiring and I listened to several keynote speakers and participated in several seminars. There was so much to reflect upon but what was particularly gratifying was that much of what was discussed as best practice in some keynotes we are already doing here at St. Helen’s College. For example, in his session on the future of learning and the future of assessment, Professor Bill Lucas outlined some key findings and recommendations from recent research on rethinking assessment from educational researchers and practice from across the world. Alternatives to the predominantly summative methods of assessment (test results) are now no longer fit for purpose (an ongoing debate for secondary schools). However, here at St. Helen’s College we are already frontrunners in our approaches; for example - extended investigations and pupil profiling (where the pupils take ownership of work they are most proud of which they curate over time), our use of learning logs, flipped learning and our reporting of ‘habits of learning’ not ‘achievement’ grades.
We are an ambitious school and always have been, so we do not feel that we are ‘recovering’ from the pandemic and lockdown but merely transitioning and adapting. Many of the speakers referred to ‘recovery’ and it did annoy me slightly the extent to which doom and gloom were associated with the pandemic. I believe that we need to celebrate all the amazing things which your children achieved during the last 19 months and look forward with continued ambition.
I would love to give you a synopsis of many of the other speakers I heard over the conference but I will leave you with one speaker’s Ted Talk, whose work is truly inspiring and which I am sure will resonate with you as it did me. James Shone’s work is aligned with one of the St. Helen's College school aims, which is centred on personal growth:
We aim to instil core moral values, inspiring virtue, responsibility, resilience, independence, mindful self-awareness and a desire for continuing self-development.
Please indulge yourself for the 16 minutes of this Ted Talk - I heard him speak for an hour but this is a snippet of what he spoke about to empower the group of Headteachers in front of him at our conference. Let’s keep inflating the balloons of self belief!
Have a wonderful weekend.
Posted on: 1/10/2021
All Steamed Up by Mr. & Mrs. CrehanToday we have a two part guest blog from Mr. & Mrs. Crehan, our Principals, who were inspired by all that they saw going on at school during STEAM Day this week.
STEAM Day is a highlight of the year, eagerly anticipated by pupils and staff alike. A day when the creativity which is at the heart of engineering is brought to life.
And what a palette of activities the children enjoyed on Wednesday this week. Following an early morning rocket launch, the younger children programmed Beebot robots, made self opening flowers, created bubble pictures and herb brushes, and built (really quite scary) mini catapults. Meanwhile, over at the Upper School, the children grappled with logic, a Smarties maths challenge, health and safety and railway engineering problems, and created a variety of structures using balloons, newspaper, pasta and marshmallows. From the intricacy of creating flowers and butterflies using chromatography to the raising of a 200kg beam of wood using Neolithic technology, the children thoroughly enjoyed exploring and developing their engineering skills.
The day was intended to be exciting and enjoyable for the children, but it was also designed to encourage skills which will be of value in their adult lives. We want our pupils to relish challenges, to work effectively in teams, to hypothesise and test out their ideas, to take risks, and to see failure as a step towards success. A day such as this helps children to 'think outside the box' and to dare to be different. It shows them that real life problems require a wide range of skills, collaboration and perseverance. To stimulate such thinking, the older children met online with a panel of four engineers (the fact that all four were women was significant) then considered how their own interests and attitudes might suit them to careers as diverse as Data Scientist, Vehicle Dynamics Engineer, Sustainability Engineer, Project Manager, Ergonomist and Design Engineer.
Children are by nature curious and creative, and they respond fantastically to activities such as those which were provided on Wednesday. Their enthusiasm was palpable. But so was that of the staff and parents who were leading the activities. The adults involved clearly enjoyed unleashing their own creative energies and sharing their passion for learning with the pupils. The pupils relished the challenges set, responded eagerly and impressed us all with their ideas, teamwork and determination.
We are so fortunate at St. Helen's College to have such committed, enthusiastic and expert staff, and such supportive parents. On behalf of the pupils, I would like to say a big thank you to the staff and parents whose creative genius made our STEAM Day such a success.
The word 'Enthusiasm' is derived from the Greek, meaning 'God within' and used to be applied to those in a divine frenzy i.e. passionate and inspired. The children on STEAM Day were eager to explain their activities with their eyes shining!
Ideally when the children choose their direction in life they will do something that inspires them and that they are passionate about.The beauty of STEAM Day is that, being a combination of arts and science, it gives them the opportunity to use their skills in inventing and creating, which gives them a taste of what may lie ahead in the world of work.
Just as Plato suggests that we lay out various tools of the different professions to very young children to watch where they naturally lean, our children at St. Helen's College are getting an early feel for many different ways to be creative with a sense of purpose; skills which may lead them to be passionate about a particular career when their time comes. They may also be more aware of the many career possibilities out there, and perhaps create their own path (as one notable ex-pupil did by being passionate about robots while at school, and then going on to supply parts from Chinese factories to British companies from the comfort of his bedroom aged 14. He is now the CEO of a multimillion pound company. Or our daughter Lucy, who decided to teach in the best performing countries around the world, wrote a book, and is now advising countries on their education policies.) This is so important; the world when our current pupils finish their education will look very different from today.
So just as the good fairies in Sleeping Beauty made wishes for the future of their princess, our wish is that the children of St. Helen's College will boldly create and innovate a career which they are passionate about, as that will make them fulfilled and purposeful for their whole lives.