School News and Head's Blog
Posted on: 12/06/2020
Joyful JuneThis week I would like to talk about emotions. We are living through an uncertain and difficult time and, understandably, emotions are running high in many of us. At St. Helen’s College, we do not shy away from discussing our emotions, either amongst the staff or with the children. We believe it is important that we all recognise and accept our emotions, allowing ourselves to feel and then channelling our feelings into positive action.
Each month I circulate a calendar to all of the staff to display in the classrooms; this month’s calendar is ‘Joyful June’ and you can see a copy of it here. Every morning I look at the calendar and remember the motto from Action for Happiness - I read the advice for each day and I find that this makes me smile and realigns my thoughts. The Action for Happiness mantra for the moment is this: “The world is in crisis. Keep calm, stay wise & be kind”.
It is not always easy to follow this mantra. Over recent months, I have felt angry, upset and emotionally and physically drained. Should I feel bad for recognising this in myself? No - I do not feel bad for recognising these feelings. We are in a crisis and we are dealing with a situation which is so far removed from what any of us have ever experienced in our lives, it is only natural that we will feel unlike our usual selves. Nobody prepared us as human beings for so much uncertainty and so much change.
The anger I felt some months ago was real. Without getting on a political soapbox, I was enraged at the lack of clarity, communication and consideration given to schools at the beginning of lockdown, since it left us in a very difficult position without any clear guidance. As time has moved on and our situation has evolved, this anger has now dissipated; however, I used this emotion to motivate myself and our Senior Leadership Team to make a difference and to respond with initiative and resourcefulness to the situation we found ourselves in.
I have been upset that we are not able to look after all of our children in the way we would like to as educators, and I know that my colleagues have shared this disappointment and sadness. This has spurred us on to put into place the very best educational and pastoral provision for those children who are not able to be with us on our school site. Although my colleagues and I have at times felt these ‘negative’ emotions, they have been balanced by ‘positive’ feelings too. I am so proud of the resilience of our pupils and the incredible support from parents and staff. We can all take joy and a sense of satisfaction from knowing that we are doing our utmost to look after the needs of the children: not just their academic needs, but their personal wellbeing too.
I have felt emotionally wrung out as the impact of the past 15 weeks has taken its toll, and I know that this feeling has been shared at times by colleagues, parents and pupils as well as family members and friends. Back in February I attended the first webinar on how to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic; we had not been affected at that point but I listened to the experiences of an overseas school and way back then I did not think that, in June, we would still be in such a surreal situation. It is certainly a marathon rather than a sprint, and it is only natural that we will all feel worn out by the emotional roller coaster of hope, disappointment and grief we have been riding, as well as by the extraordinarily heavy workload that the pandemic has brought.
Since February, the Senior Leadership Team at St. Helen’s College has had to focus on planning and implementing strategies and protocols to allow children and adults to be as safe as possible whilst also maintaining a good level of educational provision and protecting our organisation’s future. We should have been moving forward with the objectives of our school strategic plan, developing our provision for the children at St. Helen’s College with exciting initiatives and developments. However, as for almost everyone, ‘normal’ life and business have been put on hold for us, and our - more frequent and lengthy - SLT meetings have had a different type of agenda. COVID-19 features as agenda item 1 and will, necessarily, continue to do so for the immediate future.
I have tried to follow the Action For Happiness mantra and I hope that I have remained calm, wise and kind. However, I have welcomed all the other emotions into my life, being fully aware of how important it is to acknowledge these emotions and respond to them in a mindful manner. In doing so, I am grateful for the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn and other mindful practitioners whose books and research help me to improve my ‘practice’ and enable me to find a level of peace in a frantic world. I highly recommend this book or the app.
To all of our community - staff, parents and pupils - I say this: it is ok not to feel fine all the time! It is the ability to observe negativity without criticism which is key. We need to catch negative thought patterns before they take us on a deeper spiral. We need to develop greater self-compassion, observing unhappiness or stress but allowing the associated thoughts and feelings to come and go. I teach the children about ‘thought buses’ - they need to observe thoughts but should not allow themselves to jump onto one of the negative thought buses as it may not be such a pleasant journey. Many parents have approached me, keen to find out more about what we do at school in regard to mindfulness. I recommend that those of you who wish to find out more sign up for this course, which is for teachers and parents, or watch some of these videos.
For those of you who are finding this pandemic difficult, you are not alone. At times, we all struggle, and at times we all need support. There may be greater hurdles ahead as we begin to rebuild some sense of ‘normality’, with the world beginning to open up once more to trading, tourism and hospitality. We need to allow all of our thoughts and emotions a place, but also keep ourselves optimistic about the future. There have been so many positives for us to celebrate as a school, as we have seen children, parents and staff respond to this crisis so magnificently - and when some among us have found it difficult, the school community has worked together and provided the strong pastoral support needed. I am sure we will continue to find more positives as the summer months unfold.
It has been a joy over the last two weeks to see the children from Ducklings, Nursery, Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 back in school, along with the children of our key workers. As they arrive, they are lining up in the new ‘normal’ manner to enter school, the majority of them not even giving a backwards glance as they skip into school after sanitising their hands. I only wish we could bottle up their enthusiasm and happiness to send to you all - it would be a very lucrative ‘happy’ business!
What lies ahead next for schools is still unknown, but what I do know is that our planning has always had, and will continue to have, the wellbeing of the children at its core. As our country’s leaders advise us further, we will continue to respond with integrity and care, planning for the best outcome for our children and our school.
I feel nourished writing this blog and even more joyful as we end our second week of June - today’s note in the Action for Happiness calendar is 'Make a plan with friends to do something fun together!’ I have not seen any of my friends from outside our St. Helen’s College community since February half term. Like many of you, I have not seen my family for much longer. My mother (in her 80s) is alone in Scotland; my Easter trip there was cancelled and, as she does not use technology, weekly phone calls are her lifeline. Thankfully I have a cousin who shops for her and checks in on her. I shall, of course, plan to do something fun with my friends and family when I can - we all need to plan for the future ahead and be proud of what we have all achieved in this crisis together.
So, I have felt anger, frustration, disappointment, joy, pride and hope...but my overriding emotion today is gratitude. I am grateful for our community and the strength we are demonstrating together. I am grateful for the determination and support shown by parents, the resilience, adaptability and happiness shown by pupils, and the perseverance, love and sheer stamina shown by staff. You are all superstars!
Have a wonderful weekend.
Posted on: 5/06/2020
Weekly News - Friday 5th June 2020Singing Competition
What a wonderful afternoon we had today, hearing the children's entries for the final of our Singing Competition. The standard was, as always, astonishingly high and the children showed a high level of confidence, technical ability and performance skills. Mrs. Crehan had the very difficult job of judging this year and our gratitude goes to her for her adaptability in taking part in an online competition this time! The results were as follows.
Year 3 Winner - Advik
Runners up - Minaya and Xavier
Overall Middle School Winner - Advik
Year 4 Winner - Shruthi
Runners up - Anjika and Charlotte
Year 5 Joint Winners - Jessica and Maya
Runner up - Riya
Year 6 Winner - Jasmine
Runners up - Aarna and Laura
Overall Upper School Winner - Jasmine
Very many congratulations to all those involved and to our winners!
Hillingdon Road Safety Dream Bike Competition
Out of 470 entries, Arjun C (2B) has just been awarded second place for the Hillingdon Road Safety Dream Bike competition which we shared on this news blog recently. Arjun really took a keen interest and took his time to think about his dream bike and was very proud of his design. Using alliteration, he named his design the 'Weird and Wacky Bike'. Very, very well done, Arjun!
School This Week
We thought that you would all like to see some photographs of life around school this week, to give you a flavour of what it has been like getting ready for re-opening and being here with part of the community back with us. You can see these on the Galleries page. See if you can spot anyone you know!
Many thanks to Mr. McGee who has created outdoor cleaning stations for our Ducklings children so that they can continue to wash their hands thoroughly and regularly when playing outdoors!
Well done to Anjika G (4T) who wrote a fantastic Scratch program this week with a bilingual, colour-changing hexagon! You can try out her program here.
New Additions to the SHC Family
Many congratulations to Mr. and Mrs. McLaughlin, who welcomed their first baby, son Remi, this week! Remi weighed 6 lbs and 13 oz and the family are all back at home and enjoying their time together. We are sure that you would all like to join with us in wishing them well.
We are also delighted to announce the birth of Maeve, daughter to Miss Hill and granddaughter to Mrs. Hill!
Maeve was born on 24th May, weighing 6lb and 2oz. Miss Hill and Maeve's dad George have been having a wonderful time together as a new family and send all their love to the St. Helen's College community and especially to the Ducklings children - Miss Hill is enjoying her maternity leave but is missing you all very much.
House Art Competition
This year we will be holding our inaugural House Art Competition. Pupils may be as creative as they like in producing their pieces of artwork: drawing, painting, sculpting, modelling, sticking/collaging: all these are welcome, and more! Art must be on the theme of a school value, and each piece of work must be accompanied by a note (NOT WRITTEN ON THE PIECE OF WORK ITSELF) which should give your child's name, class and clearly state the value depicted.
The list of values to choose from are:
The deadline for submitting entries (to your class teacher or pod supervisor) is Friday 19th June.
World Environment Day
Whilst many pupils and teachers continue to work remotely, Freshwater Theatre Company wanted to find a way to celebrate World Environment Day with you online. We bring you a timely message from our Earth Explorer about the actions we can take to protect our environment for future generations: https://youtu.be/jLow_8SdNPg
Please do share this link with your colleagues, pupils and their parents, as well as your family and friends. The World Environment Day website [https://www.worldenvironmentday.global] has lots of information including a practical guide with more resources.
Lockdown Survival Guide
Although this guide is branded as a 'teen guide' for surviving lockdown, there is a lot in it which we feel would be useful to our current pupils - as well as to some of the Old Helenians out there who might be approaching, or in, their teenage years and might need some extra support through this difficult time. We hope that you will find it useful - you can access it here.
Rainbow Room Thanks
Our Year 6 pupils were delighted this week to receive letters of thanks from the team at Imperial College Healthcare Trust, acknowledging the colourful and creative pictures they produced and sent in to decorate the Rainbow Room at Hammersmith Hospital.
Posted on: 5/06/2020
Home Learning - A Parent's PerspectiveWhile many pupils returned to school this week, much of our pupil community continues to be educated via our remote learning platform, supported by their parents.
As all parents will know from the parent surveys you have completed, we have sought feedback formally from parents as we have established and developed our comprehensive remote educational provision. As we have gone along, we have also surveyed pupils and staff, to ensure that we have developed, and continually improved, a system that works for all of those involved. We believe that we have got an effective, user-friendly system in place and we know from recent parent feedback that parents are very happy with all that we have done, and very appreciative of the extra steps St. Helen's College has taken, which have really set our offering apart from that of other schools. Parents appreciate that things have not been easy for any of us but that, under unforeseen and difficult circumstances, the school has worked hard to offer something very valuable and to ease the burden on parents as far as possible.
This week, we have a blog from a parent, Mrs. Jamani, about her experiences of home learning with her daughter, who is in Year 5. Of course, the challenges have been different for those of you with younger children, but I thought you would all be interested to hear about learning in lockdown from a parent's perspective.
What you have all been doing, as parents, to support your children's learning during these tricky times is incredible. We know that you also have full time jobs, elderly relatives to care for, and the relentless 'busyness' that comes with daily family life. The school is very grateful to you all for your input with your children and for your continued support of the school and of each other. You should feel very, very proud of yourselves!
Home Learning - A Parent's Perspective
Like many parents I dreaded the thought of ‘home schooling’. For me, having a full time job that didn’t seem to slow down during lockdown, I wasn’t sure how this would work for us all. How would we all cope? Did we have enough supplies? Could I help with those interesting maths questions?
Looking back on those fears/questions now, I realise that I really had nothing to worry about.
Reviewing the past few weeks since term began after the Easter break, what has struck me as having really made a difference to us is how St. Helen's College has been able to adapt so quickly and the amount of resources we have in comparison to other schools. This has put a tremendous amount of structure back into my daughter's day. Having actual lessons within a structured timetable and live teacher interaction too has meant that my involvement hasn’t been at the levels I feared when first faced with the prospect of ‘home schooling’. I am so grateful for this, as I have no idea how I would have coped otherwise.
I now get to enjoy listening to my daughter’s class calls and the conversations and interactions she has with her classmates in her new study room and can see how much they are learning outside of the classroom setting! Remote learning has also given me a great insight into what her days may have been like when she was actually going into school, which I would never otherwise really have had a chance to experience.
My daughter also has positive things to say. She says that “remote learning has been really positive. If we need something the teachers are always at hand via Google Classroom or they might keep the Meet open so that we can go in and the teachers can help to explain things further. Also, when we mark our work we can go into the Meet and if we get a question wrong our teachers can help straight away. The added bonus is that we get help from our peers too. Our peers might be marking or have already marked the work so they can help by explaining it to us via Google Classroom or we can set up a Zoom call so people on the same thing can communicate/discuss and collaborate.”
Both my children have shown great resilience. They have embraced this new way of learning and living and actually all of us have seen the positives in what we do every day. Learning new things to cook, relaxing more, growing together, playing games, getting on with the ‘to do’ list and actually winning! Having a robust remote learning plan that has been executed well has meant that I, as a parent, have managed to juggle work and parental duties without the added pressure of being a teacher too! It has meant I can stress less and concentrate on making this time we have together as memorable as possible.
So a big thank you must go to all the staff at St. Helen's College for all their hard work, time, support and patience.
Posted on: 22/05/2020
Weekly News - Friday 22nd May 2020Speech Competition
Today we held our first ever online speech competition finals. Congratulations to all of our finalists; they left us all thoroughly entertained in the junior and senior competitions, performing their poems and speeches with confidence and conviction. Here is a list of all the winners and highly commended entries.
Highly Commended: Samuel 1HC, Evie 1C, Sienna 2H
Year 1 Winner: Aaryav
Year 2 Winner: Hana
Year 3 WInner: Oliver
Junior Champion: Oliver (3M)
Highly Commended: Vidhit 5G, Harrison 6RD
Year 4 Winner: Diyan
Year 5 Winner: Samir
Year 6 Winner: Catherine
Senior Champion: Catherine 6RD
A huge thank you also to our judge and school governor, Miss Beckett, who gave her time throughout the week to watch the entries and provide excellent feedback to the children. To all those who did not make the final this year: well done for taking part in the competition. Keep practising and next year it could be you!
Big Dreamers Writing Competition
Throughout the week, children across the school have been writing short stories for a national competition run by National Book Tokens and Puffin. There is a 300-word limit and the theme is 'dreams.' There are many fantastic prizes to be won, including £200 in book vouchers. If your child has not yet participated, you may wish to help them complete a story and submit their entry over the half-term holidays as a fun creative writing activity. Full details can be found here.
Singing Competition Finals - Middle School and Upper School
Thank you for the many video entries we received for our online singing competition. Although it was a very difficult decision as usual, the following students have been selected for the finals.
The finals will take place during the afternoon of Friday 5th June. Further information will follow shortly. Students do not need to resubmit videos, unless they are asked to, and they will not need to sing live. Please note that the submitted video entries will be shown to all spectators during the afternoon of 5th June. Our judge for the final round of the competition, Mrs. Crehan, will choose her winners.
We wish all of the finalists the very best of luck!
Today was Mrs. McLaughlin's last day with us for the time being and we all wish her well as she begins her maternity leave and she and Mr. McLaughlin await the arrival of their first child! It was so lovely to hear the children of 3M give her a send off this morning just before the Junior Speech Competition. The children had created a beautiful video montage, Yousra read a lovely poem about 'Why God Created Teachers' and Eshanvi read an acrostic poem that she had written herself. After school today, staff joined together in a virtual baby shower to celebrate, and we enjoyed taking part in games and quizzes. We thought you might enjoy this quiz - see if you can guess the staff member from their baby photos! We will share the answers after half term.
Well done to Grace O'H (Y2), who has been baking for the team of managers and call handlers who staff the COVID-19 hub at the Civic Centre, to lift their spirits. Grace has baked gluten free cakes and birthday cakes and even used a genuine WWII recipe to bake a cake for VE Day!
Grace and her family have also been making cloth face masks and homemade filters to slip in the back. As an act of kindness, they have sent these off to vulnerable people around the country and have provided masks to people working in the private sector front line who may have to use public transport to get to work.
Esha T (Y6) celebrated her birthday this week and her family had the super idea of giving the day a French theme, to make up for Esha not being able to go on the Year 6 trip to France this year because of the pandemic. We hope that Esha enjoyed her day - Bon Anniversaire, Esha!
Phased Re-opening and Packed Lunches
Parents of children returning to school in Phase 1 of our reopening are reminded that absolutely NO NUT PRODUCTS may be sent into school in snacks or packed lunches. Please do be vigilant. There are currently children at school with severe/multiple allergies and some products, such as cereal bars, may contain nuts less obviously.
In the hot weather, it will be a good idea to send an ice pack in the packed lunch bag.
Class teachers will be sending out year group specific information ahead of the return to outline daily procedures, which we hope will answer any questions you may have.
Keeping Well At Home
Until 1st June, most of the country are still being asked to stay at home. We are aware that some of you will have to continue staying at home past this date, too, especially if you live with a clinically vulnerable person. This advice about keeping well at home might be useful....let's all keep looking after ourselves!
National Thank A Teacher Day
The staff have been very touched this week at the numerous messages received for Thank A Teacher Day. Some children even made videos. It is really very nice to be appreciated, so huge thanks to everyone who took the time to send messages, photos and videos.
Posted on: 22/05/2020
Community Spirit and WellbeingOn Wednesday evening, we held our first virtual PA Forum meeting. Mrs. Hunt, Mr. McLaughlin, Mrs. Smith and I had no idea how many parents would show up online – especially on such a beautiful, sunny evening – and we were absolutely delighted when we were joined by almost every class rep from across the school!
Having already sought and received feedback from parents, pupils and staff about our current online educational provision, the focus of Wednesday’s meeting was to look at the wellbeing of our community, what we have done so far to promote wellbeing during lockdown, and what more we can do to continue to support you and your children.
We began by looking at what we have been doing so far – you can see the slides I used here – and it was heartening to hear that parents agree that the school has been going ‘above and beyond’ to care for our pupils pastorally as well as academically over the last two months of virtual education. It has been a challenge for us to make sure that pupils have face-to-face contact with their teachers and other staff, but we have tried to make sure they feel supported by school as well as home as they have negotiated a strange, changing and quite frightening world. We have held class and small group Google Meets and have set challenges and activities specifically designed to boost their spirits, as well as making school videos just to say hello! It is so important that our pupils remain happy and positive (and that we all do too), even when there is sadness and negativity around us.
We have kept a focus on parent and staff wellbeing, too. As I wrote last week, the world is a challenging place at the moment for most of us: we are being pulled in many different directions, and the rug is constantly being pulled out from under our feet. I am reminded of one of my favourite quotes:
‘Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass…
It’s about learning to dance in the rain.’
I think we have all, thus far, been doing a wonderful job of dancing together! But there is always more that we can do, and so we asked the PA class representatives at last night’s meeting to brainstorm and let us know how else we can raise the spirits of pupils and parents, and care for their wellbeing. They had some great ideas: among other things, they suggested that pupils dress in rainbow colours or fancy dress for Friday assemblies and that we could encourage SHC pupils to take part in the Mount Everest Challenge or go for a Guinness World Record. While the virtual Sports Day leaderboard (which is ever-changing!) has been a hit, they agreed that it would be good to find more ways for the school houses to compete against each other, and they thought of fun challenges to set the children each week, like timing how quickly they could put on and take off ten pairs of socks!
They also said that it would be great to incorporate some form of brain gym or ’wake up, shake up’ at the start of each online lesson, to counteract the potential negative effects of time spent in front of the screen, and they noted that individual encouragement and reward from school staff is a real motivator for children. We will look further at ways to manage this remotely for those children who will remain at home after half term. The parents also asked if we could manage remote School Council meetings, to allow the pupil voice another channel, and we will be putting this into place for Middle and Upper School children.
The PA are keen to support the community, too, and are looking at ways of hosting a virtual social event. I am sure that many parents are keeping in contact in small groups by arranging online meets too, and I have no doubt that you are providing very valuable support to each other during the strange shared parenting experience you are all going through.
We were very touched when the PA reps asked us how the staff are doing, and told us how very grateful they, and the parent body at large, are for all that we have been doing. There was even an impromptu clap for the school staff, which brought tears to our eyes. I was so proud to be able to describe this at a staff meeting yesterday, and became quite overwhelmed as I relived the moment for my colleagues. It is lovely to be part of a community which recognises that we are all human, and that staff have their own challenges too. I was able to say, with conviction, that our staff are very committed to making the phased return to school work. While there is of course some apprehension about returning to school during a pandemic, there is a great camaraderie amongst the staff body. There is also a real sense of trust in the systems that the school’s Governors and Senior Leadership Team are putting into place, and a desire to return to some recognisable structure and routine. Most of all, staff are looking forward very much to spending time with the children again.
As you can see, the PA class rep’s came up with some fantastic ideas, and we hope to put many of these into action soon. If you have any ideas of your own that you feel might lift our community’s spirits or promote the wellbeing of our children, please, please, share them. Our (email) door is always open and we would really love to hear your ideas, or your children’s ideas, and put them into practice if we can. Please send ideas to Mrs. Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org
Let’s keep on dancing through the storm…together.
Posted on: 15/05/2020
Weekly News - Friday 15th May 2020International Day of Families
It is lovely to know that the children have spent the week engaging in activities to celebrate International Day of Families today. You can see some photos of what they have been up to on our Photo Galleries page.
Well done to our Year 6 children, who have been creating and sharing artwork to decorate a room at Hammersmith Hospital which is being transformed into a 'Rainbow Room'. The room is being used by NHS staff to allow them some quiet, contemplative time in the midst of their often harrowing days and nights.
Speech Competition Finals
Next Friday, 22nd May, the school will be hosting its first-ever online Speech Competition finals! The competitions will take place at the following times via Google Meet, in the same way as an assembly:
8.45 - 10.00 a.m. Junior School Final (Years 1 - 3)
1.50 - 3.00 p.m. Senior School Final (Years 4 - 6)
All finalists have been emailed detailed instructions on how to take part. It will be a fantastic way to bring the community together and end the half term by showcasing the children's public speaking skills!
I have also challenged the children to write their own 'Feel Good Friday' poem this week, all about what makes them feel good. Children in Years 1-6 who would like to write a poem should submit their finished poem to their class teachers next week.
Parent Feedback and 6RD Video
Thank you so much to all of the parents who sent feedback about our remote educational provision via the survey sent out last week. We were very pleased that the feedback was so positive; parents clearly feel that the quality and amount of online teaching is good and that pupils are engaging well and making good progress. We were really touched to read the many individual comments that you took the time to write, thanking your teachers and other staff for all that they are doing. Some parents questioned whether there would be an opportunity for formal feedback from staff to parents this term. The answer is that, while we are unable to hold parents' evenings, teachers will certainly be preparing written end of year reports for each child. The format of these reports will reflect the altered circumstances of the term and they will focus on progress in the core subjects.
Led by Tanishka, the children of 6RD have created a beautiful and very touching video of thanks for their teachers and all of the staff who have supported them during their time at St. Helen's College. Thank you, 6RD - this means so much to us!
Mr. Smith and Mr. Rizzo have been very busy working on the school grounds over the last few weeks.
At Upper School, new fencing has been installed outside the back of Cambria, the Zen Garden has been enhanced with a beautiful new pergola and the Art Studio has been re-furbished.
The gardens and lawns are looking beautiful and we are continuing to maintain our indoor and outdoor spaces to our usual high standards. We can't wait until we can welcome pupils back to enjoy these areas.
At Lower School, where the key worker children are being cared for daily, everything is tidy and well cared for, and we are working on the planted area at the foot of the playground which should soon be looking really good.
Posted on: 15/05/2020
Remote TeachingIt seems timely to stop, draw breath and begin some serious reflection on what we have been able to achieve so far with our remote learning provision this half term. We have now received - overwhelmingly positive – feedback from parents, pupils and staff about this via the surveys we sent out earlier this week, and it is important that, amongst our day to day work, we take time to look back at what we have achieved and look forward to what more we can do.
So much has changed in recent months and as we reflect upon our children’s learning, a few things are most readily apparent. We are now living with the daily reality of technology enabled education and, at St. Helen’s College, we certainly now have in place a robust and really productive teaching/learning platform, with which all staff and pupils are familiar. I am sad that so many schools across the country do not, even now, have a satisfactory online offering in place for their children. It is heartening to hear that the independent sector is able to assist schools less fortunate in their provision and schools such as Eton are facilitating remote learning with their A level students holding tutorials for younger children in the maintained sector.
There has been a great effect on staff, too. With remote teaching, staff are being more self critical; individually and as a whole school, we are surveying parents and children much more frequently than ever before, taking feedback on board, tweaking our practice and so, hopefully, providing even more effective learning opportunities. Staff have enhanced their skills and proved themselves adaptable and resourceful; with this has come a renewal of energy and excitement about our vocation and about what we as individuals have been able to achieve.
For most pupils at our school, there is more independent learning, more enquiry based learning and more project based learning. This has led to some wonderful creativity from your children and some really sophisticated and interesting work being produced. What we have also noticed is that, through remote learning, the children are developing ever-greater self-discipline. The timetable is looser, and there are fewer sanctions for children, who have come to realise that ‘virtue is its own reward’. They understand now, if they did not before, that the benefits of engaging fully, willingly and creatively in their learning are a sense of pride, achievement and happiness in themselves. Parents have played, and continue to play, a huge part in motivating the children to work from home successfully, often while facing the challenge of also working from home in shared spaces. We know that parents will have coped with many difficulties along the way and your support is very greatly appreciated.
I am tempted to say here that we could not have imagined all of this two months ago...however, it is precisely because, here at St. Helen’s College, we did imagine it - and worked quickly to build upon and enhance our existing systems, supporting each other and being willing to upskill ourselves - that it has become such a successful reality!
It is really astonishing to think back to what was asked of school leadership teams and teaching staff at the end of March. With virtually no notice, schools across the country were required to move our entire educational provision online for an unspecified length of time. Nationwide, a flurry began to research and select the best online programmes via which to deliver education, and teachers were required to re-plan almost entirely every lesson that they were due to deliver. We were very lucky that, as a school, we were already using Google Classroom and a flipped learning model in many year groups. This meant that many of our staff were already familiar with planning and delivering lessons using online platforms, and many of our pupils were already familiar with submitting work, communicating online and receiving feedback using these systems.
The last week of term is always a time of ‘finishing off’. While teaching continues, units of work are likely to be drawing to a close, art projects are being finished off and children are refining work, writing out work for Exhibition Day displays, and engaging in Easter-themed activities or creating Mother’s Day cards and gifts. In that final week, following the government’s announcement of school closure, these activities had to suddenly (over one weekend) be replaced with online activities, while teachers also struggled with worries over their own health, the health of their families, and childcare for their own children whose schools were suddenly closed. It was a tough time for staff across the school and I believe, honestly, that we muddled through it as best we could.
During that final week of the spring term and as soon as term ended, our School Governors, the Senior Leadership Team and I began planning in earnest for the summer term. It is hard to remember now, but at that time we had no certainty at all over what the summer term would hold. We had to assume that we would be continuing with remote educational provision, but we had no idea for how long. We had to assume that there was a strong possibility of some of our staff falling ill or being required to self-isolate. We were worried for the health and economic stability of our pupils and their families. We were concerned about how to ensure the long-term viability of the school as an organisation.
Our priorities were threefold at that time:
1. To make our first priority, always, the safety and wellbeing of our whole community: pupils, parents and staff.
2. To ensure that we could continue to provide an excellent education to our pupils, which would include both delivering high quality teaching and maintaining the strong and crucial pastoral relationships between pupils and staff.
3. To consider how best to support parents during the pandemic, by providing supervision for key worker children, by considering the economic, emotional and practical difficulties potentially faced by parents, and by communicating effectively with parents over the necessary changes and decisions faced by the school.
Teachers and senior leaders spent what should have been their Easter holidays re-planning lessons, mastering technologies that were new to them, creating videos in order to boost children’s spirits, and analysing, in depth, the school’s economic challenges. We knew that we needed to work out, quickly but with integrity, how to navigate through the uncertainty with fairness, generosity and good business sense in order to safeguard the school’s future for our pupils, parents and staff, and protect the enormous goodwill and mutual trust on which our community thrives.
Many staff were furloughed; we took advantage of the available Government schemes to help organisations such as ours and we worked out fee adjustments for parents for the summer term in the fairest and most transparent way possible – all the while not knowing if or when a return to school might be allowed. Our teaching staff worked hard, many upskilling themselves and stepping out of their comfort zones, to prepare lessons, make videos, research and curate suitable resources for use online, and alter the curriculum provision and timetables as necessary. We ran training sessions for staff who needed extra support in order to use the online platforms; we developed our own systems for online registration; we considered carefully how pupils could submit work and how work could be assessed and feedback given. Staff recognised that they would need to step outside of their comfort zones, work collaboratively and adapt to new timetables and ways of working. They rose to the challenge with courage and grace, welcoming parents into their classrooms and assemblies as regular visitors.
As the summer term began, with a depleted staff body and continued uncertainty over the pandemic situation, teachers communicated daily with pupils, parents and each other to tweak their practice and ensure that children were engaged in the online learning. As well as preparing and delivering lessons, and being available online for large chunks of the day to assist children in their learning, they monitored pupil attendance and engagement and answered parent queries. All the while, throughout the Easter holidays and during term time, volunteers from amongst the school’s teaching and administrative staff have also come into school daily to care for the children of our key workers, supporting them in their learning, looking after their emotional and physical wellbeing, and ensuring that they could have lots of fun and develop positive relationships with those around them. The family spirit of St. Helen’s College has really shone through, here. Miss Walker’s daughter (Madeline), Mrs. Smith’s son (Charley) and my own daughter (Kiera) quickly volunteered to come onto staff and join the team providing exceptional care and attention for the key worker children and ensuring that they are well-supported in accessing their online learning.
I hope that you will agree that, over these last many weeks, the staff here have never lost sight of how hard a time this must be for parents and children. We share many of your challenges: like you, our workplace has changed beyond recognition; many of our colleagues have been furloughed and we have had to spread ourselves thin in order to get everything done; we miss your children and our colleagues greatly; we have our own children and elderly relatives at home who need us; we are concerned for our own health; like you, we are tired, and worried about what the future will hold. We do not underestimate how great these challenges are for parents, and we have tried to be mindful that our communications are clear and honest, that our systems are user-friendly and that the inevitable demands being placed upon parents should be as manageable as we can make them.
It has not been easy, for any of us. And yet, as I wrote recently, there is so much to be proud of and grateful for. We are particularly grateful for the overwhelmingly positive and supportive feedback that pupils and parents gave through the recent online learning surveys. Many of you took the time to send messages of thanks to teachers and the school for all that we have been doing – and this week, entirely independently, the children of 6RD also made a ‘thank you’ video for staff, collaborating virtually in order to do so. These words and gestures mean so much to us. We do our jobs because we believe passionately in the power of education and because we love your children; we do not do them for recognition, but we are human and to hear your appreciation cannot help but boost our spirits and make everything seem that little bit more worthwhile. So thank you, from the bottom of our hearts.
With the news that schools are being asked to begin a phased re-opening after half term, we are once again doing a lot of planning in order to put rigorous processes in place. As with the news of closure, three things remain our priority: to safeguard the wellbeing of our whole community, to continue to provide an excellent education and first class pastoral care for our pupils, and to maintain an open, honest, mutually supportive relationship with parents so that we may continue to work together for the good of all. Next week, I will share more details with parents of exactly what our phased school re-opening will involve and how we are preparing for it. In the meantime, you might be interested to read this TES article which details how a school in Denmark have found their re-opening, and how they, like us, have come to realise that there are benefits to remote learning as well as to traditional teaching.
Posted on: 8/05/2020
Weekly news - Friday 8th May 2020VE Day Celebrations
The whole school really entered into the spirit of celebrating the 75th anniversary of VE Day this week, with a variety of activities taking place across the year groups. We couldn't have our planned street party at school, but the children certainly made up for it with their enthusiasm!
In our Monday assembly, Patrick, our St. Helen's College History Prefect, introduced us to VE Day, by sharing some of his knowledge with everyone. He spoke very knowledgeably. Catherine performed a wonderful rendition of the popular war time song, the White Cliffs of Dover, accompanying herself on the piano.
Across the school, children and staff were dressed in red, white and blue and many were waving flags and had decorated their rooms with bunting, which could be clearly seen in our Google Meets!
In Year 1, the children were busy writing postcards, diaries from the front line and even creating their own radio broadcasts to announce Victory in Europe! There were also activities such as quizzes and designing World War 2 medals. Reception staff and children really entered into the spirit of VE Day! They were making flags, videos and creating pictures. Even the Star Leader bears took part in the shared celebrations!
Children in other year groups created amazing posters. They also planned, researched and calculated the cost of a VE Day party, did word searches, took part in guided reading about VE Day, joined in with songs from the era and even tried out baking some World War 2 recipes!
Our Reception children (Kingfishers and Owls) made a video to wish everyone a happy VE Day and to show off their red, white and blue clothes and the flags and other decorations they had made. Here they are celebrating:
Brendan Q (Y1) made his own black and white broadcast to celebrate VE Day. You can see this here:
You can see other photos from our VE Day celebrations on our Galleries page. All round, it was a fantastic effort from the St. Helen's College community to celebrate this very special day!
It is so wonderful to hear that our pupils and parents are such great ambassadors and upholding our school values within our community. Advik S from 3M recently donated birthday money, which he had left over from earlier this year, to two very deserving causes. He has given £50 to Great Ormond Street Hospital and another £50 to the Colonel Tom Moore fundraiser for NHS.
Mr. Kumedzina is a Station Commander for the London Fire Brigade and also the Head Karate Coach for South West of England. The Kumedzina family have been training together to keep fit during lockdown, and the London Fire Brigade Charity have been raising money for the NHS by doing a 365 hour non stop run to emulate the 24 hour efforts of the NHS across a 7 day period.
Each participant has a board which is dedicated to a person or cause and Mr. Kumedzina dedicated his to his daughters and all the other children of St. Helen's College who have been working so hard at home. To support this effort, Myla ran for an hour to show her support.
We are thrilled to share the news that Mr. Tovell (4T) and his wife are expecting a baby! The new baby will become a little brother or sister to their son Teddy. Many congratulations to Mr. Tovell and family!
Sadly Mr Aguiar, our Spanish teacher, will not be teaching the children remotely due to ill health (which is not Covid-19 related). In his absence there will still be Spanish provision for the children which will be overseen by Mrs. Stark, our Head of MFL and other staff who have a good level of proficiency in Spanish. We ask parents to be mindful not to contact Mr. Aguiar at this time.
Upper School 'Hello' Video
The Upper School staff shared a video this week to say 'hello' to all the children. We are missing them all so very much! The video was published on the Learning Portal.
Wellbeing for all working remotely
During this period of remote learning it is very important that we all make sure we think about our health, safety and wellbeing. We are all spending much more time on our PCs, laptops, tablets and smartphones. Teachers are preparing and delivering lessons to your children and many of you as parents are also working remotely. Never before has so much time been spent online by us all. It is important that this should be done in the safest way possible ensuring we do not put undue strain or stress on our bodies.
As a staff we have all been assessing our home workstations and I am sure that your employers have also been advising you of the same.
This short video here shows some simple ways to adjust workstations and you may wish to complete your own basic workstation assessment at home for your children and yourself using this simple checklist.
As a school we are encouraging our staff to switch off from work and their workstations to enable them to recharge for the next day and to adopt a schoolwide email curfew between the hours of 7pm and 7am. I am sure that many of you have this in place with your place of work too. Please do be mindful that staff may not reply to your email until the next working day if you do send something to them in the evening - they are not ignoring you but are being encouraged to look after their wellbeing in order for them to be refreshed for the next day. Thank you for your support in this matter.
If you share a device with your child, it is strongly recommended that you log out of your account before allowing your child to use the device. If you do not, you are giving your child access to applications and information that you may not wish them to see. In addition, if you are logged onto a gmail account, your child will encounter problems with applications such as Google Meet. When multiple gmail accounts are used, Google sets the first account to be logged on as the default account. So, for example, if your child clicks a Meet link they will be taken to it with your account details and they will not be able to join. If siblings share a device, they should also sign out of their Google accounts after use.
We will be seeking feedback regarding this term's online learning provision from parents, staff and pupils next week using questionnaires developed by RSAcademics, a well-established and highly regarded educational recruitment and consulting company. Thank you for taking the time to complete the survey when you receive it.
In addition, we will be holding a virtual PA Forum meeting to focus on pupils' wellbeing and the wellbeing of our whole school community. This will take place on Wednesday 20th May at 7 p.m. If you have any points that you would like the PA representatives to discuss with Mrs. Drummond, Mr. McLaughlin, Mrs. Hunt and Mrs. Smith, then please forward these to your representative as soon as possible. Class representatives should forward points for discussion to Mrs. Smith by Friday 15th May, please, at email@example.com.
Book for Upper School
For those of you who enjoyed Anna Farher's 'The Umbrella Mouse' adventure with Pip....great news! The sequel to Anna's debut book is now available for pre-order. Please follow the link https://www.waterstones.com/book/umbrella-mouse-to-the-rescue/anna-fargher/sam-usher/9781529003994
Posted on: 7/05/2020
Lockdown by Mrs. CrehanMrs. Drummond, who is leading the school brilliantly in these strange times of teaching online, has asked me to write a blog on ‘lockdown.’ It seems pertinent to do so in a week when we are remembering the great sacrifices made by generations before us as we celebrate VE Day. Certainly their experiences, living through a war, were much harder than ours today, but there are some parallels to be drawn. We are having to pull together, show bravery and resilience, acknowledge and support the front line workers and look for the joy in the little things just as our grandparents and great-grandparents had to back then.
I remember us as a Senior Leadership Team writing a policy for Pandemic Flu about 12 years ago and thinking that such an event would never happen, and yet here we are in exactly those circumstances! Luckily the forward thinking of the school and the expertise of our staff meant that we were well prepared to teach online and that the children were already used to this way of teaching. Indeed, a recent article in The Times noted that state school children are currently at a disadvantage in comparison with the independent sector as we are well ahead with online learning.
Lockdown will have affected families in different ways, according to whether parents are able to continue with their line of work, or whether they have had to stop completely. Parents are also faced with needing to help educate their children online, often alongside a heavy workload of their own, which can’t be easy.
We are all seeing a lot more of our immediate family and little of our extended families. I hope that you are enjoying the time you are spending with your families, as the usual rush of getting out of the house has gone for most of us, and we actually get some quality time with each other. We can also appreciate that close proximity of your loved ones for extended periods of time under stressful circumstances may not be all sweetness and light either!
Our situation in the Crehan household is probably fairly unusual in that four of our children with partners and grandchildren all opted to stay with us at the beginning of the lockdown, so there are thirteen of us here. There are pop up offices dotted around the house in the most unlikely places, and Mr. Crehan has been known to hold Google Meets while sitting on the stairs. We have to take our exercise in small groups so that we are not suspected of breaking the rules, and buying food can be embarrassing because my trolley is so full it looks as though I’m hoarding – especially as I am also providing for my 90 year old parents!
I feel guilty saying it, when so many are grieving or ill, but our lockdown experience has been enjoyable and busy. We have been fortunate in that we have avoided the virus so far and therefore spending an intense time at home with more of our family than we usually see, including one son who we hadn’t seen for a year because he was living in the Philippines, plus his lovely girlfriend, has been an unusual bonus. The weather has been amazing too!
Early on I bought a whiteboard online, and didn’t digest its measurements, which turned out to be large enough to take up a huge part of the kitchen wall, and on this people write down activities or whether they are prepared to cook on a particular night. We also have a column where we have a letter of the alphabet per day with relevant pictures beneath to encourage the three year old before he starts school.
We have got into a good routine (yoga at 8.00 a.m., singing for a video at 10.00 a.m.!) and everyone plays their part voluntarily in keeping the job of catering for so many people quite manageable. We have our three grandchildren living with us too, so some of the childcare has also been shared.
I volunteered to make some singing videos for the younger classes, particularly Ducklings where I would normally have done a weekly sing, and I have enjoyed this very much. We have made one almost every day so far, which has been a great routine to get into first thing in the morning. My daughter Lucy has been my action partner, as I can’t do actions for the children while accompanying on the guitar. (Although she is very pregnant so hopping like a kangaroo may not have happened as the song action required!) In the sessions we have had Teddy who is three years old, Bethan who is one, and behind the camera, the 5 month old Cleo with her mum, so there is an occasional cry from the unseen baby.
Each day I choose a new topic as a theme for songs and I think I must have covered most possible topics. I began with our usual songs but soon wanted to learn new ones, and having a daily topic meant that I researched songs from different times from the ancient nursery rhymes to war songs to the present day. It was a challenge learning a large number of new songs daily so I hope that parents who view them with their children will excuse the frequent mistakes (the tune of some songs may change slightly from verse to verse!) and amateur nature of the videos, but will also be amused by the antics of the children who were my measure as to whether the songs were appropriate for their age group. Bethan, the one year old, discovered an affinity for the camera from the start so there are many close-ups of her as she enjoys seeing herself! Mr. Crehan has also made a fleeting appearance, carrying props for our songs behind us in a couple of sessions, and he ‘swam’ behind us in full diving gear for Under the Sea! I wrote out the lyrics and stuck them on the side of the table and onto a drying rack, and frequently the children would wander in front of the words so that my view was obscured, leading to halts in transmission!
I have experienced a feeling of handing down treasures of songs, however imperfectly, that may have been forgotten today – there are many songs on Youtube but the quality of modern songs offered for today’s younger children is generally not very high, and it was great to delve into songs from the past as well as the better ones from today – several pop songs made it onto my list too! I even rediscovered a song that my grandmother had taught to me, which I had forgotten about. This experience has made the word ‘traditional’, i.e. the handing down from the past, feel very real and natural, especially as my past now goes back quite a long time!
Hopefully our St. Helen’s College family will come through this period safely and the children will not be disadvantaged by having their lessons online for a couple of months. Whatever their experience, it is a global one and they are living through something unprecedented in our history. 2020 will be in the history books like 1666.
I suspect that most of you are very busy but you may also be enjoying acting as co-educator of your children in a way you’ve never had time to do before. I’m sure that for the majority who are at home, it will not be easy juggling your jobs with your childcare. However, if we can stay healthy, and I do appreciate that some of us will suffer illness and loss which is difficult and tough, the positive side of this surreal situation is having time when we are not on the usual hamster’s wheel of life where we hardly see our families or our homes. It reminds us that however important our jobs, it is our families that are the most precious thing in our lives.
So stay safe, keep showing bravery and resilience and, if you can, keep finding the joy in the little things. In the words of the song sung by Vera Lynn during the 2nd World War, ‘We’ll meet again, (do know where), don’t know when, but I know we’ll meet again some sunny day!’