School News and Head's Blog
Posted on: 24/04/2020
AdaptabilityA quick internet search for ‘adaptability’ and ‘employers’ brings up article after article from the broadsheet press, from employment agencies and recruitment websites, and from the websites of top companies, citing adaptability as the key quality that today’s employers are looking for in new hires, including new graduates. Many high level employers have actually devised ways to test for adaptability as part of their recruitment processes.
Adaptability is defined as ‘the quality of being able to adjust to new conditions; an ability or willingness to change in order to suit different conditions’. The specific adaptability that employers are looking for has, perhaps, a slightly wider definition: they might add the words ‘effectively’, ‘successfully’, ‘quickly’, ‘independently’ or ‘good naturedly’ to this definition. Certainly, a key ingredient for success in the adult world into which our current pupils will enter is likely to be the ability to adapt oneself to an ever-changing and sometimes totally unprecedented environment… like the one in which we all find ourselves now!
This might sound a big ask, but it is surely going to be second nature to St. Helen’s College children and, perhaps more widely, to the younger generation in general. When, on March 20th, schools were ordered into lockdown by the government, our pupils had to come to terms, almost overnight, with the idea that they would, for the foreseeable future, be unable to see their friends, teachers and other support staff in person. They had to adapt, with speed and good humour, to learning and communicating online, to working more independently and to finding their place in a household that most likely suddenly became more full of people than ever before. They had to understand, very quickly, that it was their own responsibility to develop and feed their enquiring mind and they had to do all of this while attempting to understand the wider local, national and international implications of the threat of the pandemic in which we find ourselves.
Wow! That is a lot to expect of adults, but for children it feels impossible. However, as Audrey Hepburn said, there is no such thing as ‘impossible’ – the word itself is ‘I’m Possible’. What our children have certainly discovered over the last few weeks is that they themselves are the key to their success. HOW they approach their learning, their relationships and their health is key. The success criteria in a new situation, even an unprecedented one, are the same as in any situation: being willing to listen, learn and think creatively; being able to try, fail and learn from failures; being ready to reflect, be still and find the voice within. Our values are what allow us to do these things effectively in new situations. If we have a strong personal core – if we know who we are and what we believe in – if perseverance, honesty, determination, kindness and the pursuit of excellence are embedded in our very being – then surely we are well-placed for success no matter what the outside world might throw at us. Moreover, if we have our own interests and a willingness to try new things and keep ourselves busy, active and learning in new situations, then our mental and physical health are likely to be maintained even in restrictive circumstances.
This is why the St. Helen’s College aims, and our values-based education system, are given such a high priority at the school, and are referred back to in everything that we do. No matter what the ‘crisis’, no matter what the new demands, no matter what our physical restrictions, we continue to aim for excellence and to nourish a love of learning, to encourage children to discover their own talents and interests by taking part in a wide range of activities, and to instil core Christian values so that children develop integrity, self-awareness and resilience. It has been a joy to hear how our pupils are embodying these aims in lockdown, from keeping busy writing songs, creating art, building marble runs, taking up new sports and hobbies to adapting and persevering in using online systems that might be new to them. We are sure that, having had the opportunity to practise adaptability and reflect upon it in such a major way, they will be high on the list of desirable candidates for any future employer!
There is not time now to discuss the amazing adaptability shown by parents and school staff in the current situation…perhaps that will be for another blog…but please rest assured that we know how very adaptable parents are having to be, and that we are amazingly proud of the flexibility, commitment and great integrity that our whole community is showing during this strange time.
We look forward to practising our adaptability again when we are able to adjust back to some sort of normality – hopefully sooner rather than later!
Posted on: 3/04/2020
#AdventureI have joined a group of fellow educators this week to participate in a daily writing challenge. Today’s 500 word challenge struck a chord with me, following my conversations last night as I joined my community for the second week to clap for our NHS workers and other carers.
The word we were encouraged to blog about today is ‘Adventure’.
An adventure is often defined as exciting, involving an element of risk and unknown outcomes. When we hear the word, we think of adventure stories and films, in which the heroes and other characters undergo challenges, often making a journey of self-discovery as they do so and, almost always, working through difficulties and risky situations to positive endings.
I do not think that any of us could have anticipated what our NHS workers are currently up against, and we certainly would not glibly define their vocation as an adventure during this COVID-19 crisis. But there are similarities: every day these workers are most certainly at risk, their daily outcomes are most certainly unknown and they are embracing their roles with courage, stoicism and grace.
Yesterday, the Chief Executive of the Royal College of Nursing, Dame Donna Kinnair, spoke out on behalf of thousands of nurses who felt that NHS staff were being let down and put at great risk by the lack of personal protective equipment for nursing staff, including those in hospitals, GP surgeries, care homes and hospices, as well as community nurses visiting people in their homes. In a letter to the Health and Safety Executive, she called the situation ‘unconscionable’ and called upon the HSE to intervene.
My sister has been in despair for weeks; she is a District Nurse Team Leader and a National Clinical Lead for Nursing and has been deeply concerned about how ill-equipped her district nurses have been on a daily basis. She has been handing out insubstantial face masks to her team - one mask per nurse per day - and felt this was an insult to their professionalism as they continued to put their own safety and wellbeing at risk for the greater good. We now hear that, at last, teams of NHS workers will become protected and will be able to fulfil their roles without the fear of becoming infected themselves or infecting a vulnerable person. NHS worker testing is another dilemma which we hope to see resolved soon.
Late last night I checked in on another friend, who is currently working 12 hour shifts at a London hospital as an Intensive Care Unit nurse. Her world, and that of all of her colleagues, has been turned on its head. She is drained, exhausted and anxious, but is coping with her anxiety admirably and has documented her experiences in a blog - her way of dealing with the reality of the situation.
Schools, including St. Helen’s College, are doing their bit by remaining open over the Easter holiday to look after the children of key workers. We are grateful to be able to help our key worker parents in this way, who are crucial to supporting this crisis and we thank all of our parents for playing your part, in critical key worker roles, as NHS and other volunteers, as supportive members of your local and wider community and, by no means least, in supporting your children and wider family during these challenging times.
The young children we have in school at the moment may regard having the school to themselves as a bit of an ‘adventure’ too - there are very few of them with us, and the school must seem strange and empty to them without their friends around them. Luckily, our amazing staff see it as an adventure too and are helping to fill those children’s days with love and structure. Our children most likely cannot understand the enormity of the crisis that we find ourselves in as they live through it. I hope that, one day in the future, they will read blogs and listen to stories from parents and others who are on the front line at the moment.
We will get through this moment in our history, and perhaps one day we will be able to see it as one of the great ‘adventures’ of our lives, in the strictest of senses - not a fictional story but a very real time of the unknown; a time of the unthinkable, but a time during which we all found great courage and self-awareness, and during which we cemented our roles in our families, communities and society as a whole.
Thinking of you all; stay safe, stay connected, stay strong.
Posted on: 27/03/2020
Stay ConnectedThis is undoubtedly one of the hardest blogs I have ever attempted to write. Last night, as I joined with my neighbours and the entire nation to applaud the NHS, I was quite overwhelmed with emotion. This week has been like no other and I am sure you all feel the same.
As yet, I have not actually been at home during the day and I am so grateful to have a routine of some form to my day, albeit ‘school’ has not been normal. We have had a small number of children attending each day, whose parents are our incredible key workers, and I am in awe of their resilience and adaptability. Our young Ducklings through to our Year 6 children have been so resilient as they have adapted to new classrooms, new staff and a very quiet school, some of them not quite understanding where all their friends are. The staff in school have been just wonderful: support staff, TALAs and teachers all pulling together to make each day as happy and productive as possible for the children. You can see some photographs of the school this week on our Galleries page here. I have also been able to join in class Google meets, during which children, working remotely, have touched base with their form teachers, and I have joined in on a guided reading session on World War II, a recorder lesson, Chamber Choir, story time and many more outstanding distance learning sessions throughout the week.
Our teachers, working from home, have surpassed all expectations! Their enthusiasm and dedication this week has humbled me as they have supported each other, learning new skills and working tirelessly into the wee early hours to video lessons, upload resources, provide feedback and assess tasks the children have been working on.
Your children have been outstanding, and you as parents have been outstanding! I know for many of you who are also working from home this week you must feel as though you have been put through the wringer, trying to support your children’s learning as well as adapting to your new routines of working from home. The last thing we wish to do is to cause anxiety and stress for you all at home, so I would like to take this chance to say that the distance learning educational provision needs to be approached by each family as appropriate for you. This is only Week 1 of a journey which may be quite a long one and we need to treat it as a marathon rather than a sprint. I do think that your children are proving they are in good shape for this marathon, but we appreciate here at school that you must settle into a sustainable pace for the family.
Yesterday I participated in a live webinar along with 160 other Head teachers and Bursars and we spoke with the Headteacher/CEO from the Kellet British International School in Hong Kong whose school is now on Day 41 of distance learning. They have learnt many lessons along their journey and have worked with their community of pupils, parents and staff to ensure that everyone is being looked after in such uncertain times. I felt quite gratified and proud of our St. Helen’s College community as we are only into Day 5 of our distance learning experience and already have so much in place which they did not have at the outset.
Wellbeing for everyone is paramount at the moment and it is so important, for children and adults alike, that we allow ourselves to acknowledge how we are feeling. Take time to notice the wobbles - they will happen to everyone I am sure, as we all live through something which none of us expected. It is how we respond to our wobbles that is important. Perhaps, by using the tools of mindfulness and bringing attention to our breath, we can try to find stillness as we acknowledge how our bodies and minds are feeling.
Your children already know so much about mindfulness and they will be able to teach you some of the practices which we do in assemblies - so I hope that you will be able to have some moments of quiet stillness every day with your family. I have shared with you below a famous poem which is often recited in mindfulness circles; our current Year 6 have discussed the poem and understand the sentiment, not to resist the thoughts and emotions that pass through you but to meet them with courage, warmth and respect.
Over the Easter holidays it may be very difficult for us all to negotiate the impacts of what is happening in our country and our world. Please do reach out to each other, staying connected by whatever means you can. Many of us are possibly grieving the old way of life from just a week ago but at the end of this we will, no doubt, value human contact even more.
If anyone is concerned about how their child or even an adult is coping then Mrs. Brooker, our ‘time to talk’ listener, is more than happy to be contacted. Parents all have our staff contact details. We will also be keeping in contact with you regularly over the holiday - as a community we will get through this together.
Below I have sign posted some additional sites which may be useful for you as parents to help your children cope and keep busy at this time.
Some top tips on how to talk to our children about Coronavirus:
I am sure like me you are being inundated with emails and posts on social media about things to do with your family whilst in lockdown, but I am delighted that the Royal Opera House will be streaming live and tonight's ‘Peter and the Wolf’ may be enjoyed by young and old!
During the holidays I love to attend the theatre with my family and although it may not be possible to be there physically I am pleased that I may enjoy some productions - the link below provides information of shows which are live streaming.
I am sure many children are avidly rehearsing for the St. Helen's College annual Singers Competition next term - please keep encouraging them to do so, as this is an event which we are looking forward to very much.
During the Easter Holidays do encourage your children to become part of the Rainbow Trail - to share positivity families have been taking part in creative projects to display rainbows in their windows/gardens to stay connected with their community and spread positivity. It would be wonderful to see some photos of the rainbows you create - here is our first one, from Mylo and Oliver O!
Free Audible Books
In assembly on Thursday, we showed the children a site for free audio books during the school closure period. Here is the link: https://stories.audible.com/start-listen. The books come in different age categories and even include foreign language sections. It is a wonderful opportunity for the children to explore stories in a new and exciting way whilst boosting their vocabulary.
Stay safe everyone; stay home but stay connected. Thank you all for being my extended family.
Posted on: 20/03/2020
Weekly News - Friday 20th March 2020Scholarships
We are thrilled to announce that our Year 6 pupils have performed extremely well in the independent school entrance processes. Following the 11+ entry assessments and interviews, they have been awarded the following scholarships. As you will see, it is an impressively long list! Many congratulations to all of these children, and to all of the other Year 6 children - we are so pleased that your hard work has been acknowledged in this way.
Academic Scholarship - Catherine L
Music Scholarship - Catherine L
Long Close School
Academic Scholarship - Taha U
Merchant Taylors School
Academic Scholarship - Daniel G-J
Academic Scholarship - Aarna A
Academic Scholarship - Esha T
Art Scholarship - Kaixin F
Art Scholarship - Ridhima M
Sport Scholarship - Rhea A-V
Reddam House School
Academic Scholarship - Ibraheem F
Royal Masonic School
All-Rounder Scholarship - Ridhima M
St. Helen's School, Northwood
Academic Scholarship - Aarna A
Academic Scholarship - Ridhima M
St. Mary's School
Academic Scholarship - Jasmine B
St. Paul's Girls' School
Music Exhibitions for Flute and Voice - Catherine L
Wycombe Abbey School
Music Scholarship - Catherine L
Music Personality of the Term
The Musician of the Term trophy was awarded this term to Jasmine B, who has always worked conscientiously and demonstrated great enthusiasm over many years in all aspects of music at St. Helen's College. Jasmine has excellent music skills, applies and shares creative ideas well in class work, and has is an excellent role model within the music department as a music prefect. She has been a regular member of the Junior, Senior and Chamber Choirs and she regularly performs in assemblies and recitals. As well as playing the recorder fluently, Jasmine plays the piano and the guitar, and has recently taken her Grade 5 singing exam. Well done, Jasmine!
PA Easter Egg Winners
The following children won the PA Easter egg raffle today. Some of these children were not in school but don't worry - we will hold onto their prizes for them until we return!
Ducklings - Alana P
Robins - Aaria M
Wrens - Nihaal P
Kingfishers - Millie B
Owls - Caitlin P
1C - Avar D
1HC - Ashvika A
2B - Hana H
2H - Lachlan J
3B - India C
3M - Milo M
4KT - Nirvaan D
4T - Avaani M
5A - Jessica L
5G - Joban K
6M - Jai D
6RD - Aran C
Many thanks to the PA for their generosity in donating these Easter prizes!
This week the Senior Choir took their musicality outdoors and delighted Accent staff, other pupils and staff (including catering staff) with a medley of Frozen songs. It was wonderful to see and hear such uplifting musicality around the Windsor Garden and playground.
Well done to the girls who played in the netball rally last Saturday. The team lost in the semi finals and were awarded bronze medals. They were also presented with gold medals and the cup for winning the league. Congratulations, girls.
We know that you will wish to join us in congratulating Ms Califano (1HC) who is expecting her second child!
Posted on: 13/03/2020
Weekly News - March 13th 2020Chess
Congratulations to Michael K from Year 6, who was the winner of the Delancey Chess Tournament; Michael received a lovely trophy and book voucher. Congratulations also to Marcus S and Alex S who both qualified for the Megafinal, which is due to take place over the Easter break.
A budding group of scientists entered an amazing time machine and went back to the prehistoric era in the Wrens class assembly this week, where they met two paleontologists who introduced them to an array of fascinating dinosaurs.
The children delighted us with their singing, acting and knowledge of dinosaurs and how they became extinct. There were some wonderful performances from such young children. Congratulations to everyone involved!
It was an emotional morning for the pupils and parents of 6RD as the children presented their final class assembly. They took the opportunity to share their favourite memories of their time at school with the audience, from Nursery right through to Year 6, and to reflect upon the great start they have made not just to their education but to their lives! They considered their hopes and dreams and speculated on the careers they might go on to undertake, but also reminded us all that health and happiness are the most important goals in life. Well done, 6RD; your singing and acting were very impressive and we very much enjoyed sharing your reflections.
Quiz Club Heats
On Tuesday, our Quiz Club visited the Emmanuel Centre in Westminster to take part in the national primary General Knowledge Quiz Club finals. The A team came 10th overall and the B team came 25th overall. There were 31 teams taking place in all. This was a fantastic experience including a super minibus tour of London for our Quiz Club members, who were: Catherine L, Esha T, Ben L, Vandan V, Aryan B, Riddhi S, Annie L and Arshvir S.
We are delighted to report that the World Book Day book sale last week (of surplus library stock plus some books donated from home) raised £108, which will be used to purchase new school library books which enhance our wellbeing. This might include books specifically addressing wellbeing and mental health, fiction for different ages, hobbies and sports...any specific suggestions or ideas are most welcome! In the summer term, our librarians will create a display of the new books. Many thanks indeed to all those who supported the book sale!
We took twelve players (three teams) to the Hillingdon Primary Table Tennis at Oakwood School on Monday.
The format of the competition was different this year, with twelve individual medals available instead of team medals. We are delighted to report that, of the twelve individual medals available, St. Helen's College won seven!
There were four seed pools overall and our individual medals were as follows:
Seed Pool 1
Silver - Eli V-B
Bronze - Ciaran R
Seed Pool 2
Gold - Jai D
Silver - Harry J
Bronze - Mohib F
Seed Pool 3
Silver - Rhea A-V
Bronze - Hema G
We were crowned Borough Champions once again and the team proudly retained their silver plate trophy! Well done to all those pupils involved.
Our school football team finished their campaign for this season with a 2-1 defeat at home to St. Matthew's. It has been a season of two halves, with some great play and results before Christmas followed by a drop in form after the Christmas break. The team should be proud of themselves as we have introduced younger players this year and some of the performances from our Year 6 players have been outstanding. Mistakes have cost us a higher finishing position in the league, but with the introduction of youth we look forward to a successful campaign next season.
Many congratulations to our netball team, who were winners of the Year 6 netball tournament at Reddiford School this week. Schools taking part were Alpha Prep, Reddiford, Quainton Hall and St. Helen's College.
Our team were undefeated all afternoon and showed great competitive skills and team play.
At Thursday evening's swimming gala, the St. Helen's College team put on a very strong performance indeed, qualifying through the heats for 7 out of 8 finals!
In the finals, there were bronze medals for Krisha S in breaststroke and Catherine L in freestyle and a silver medal for our freestyle relay team, made up of Catherine L, Ben L and Krisha S.
The St. Helen's College team came in 3rd place overall and should feel very proud of themselves!
Speech Competition (Years 1- 6)
Our finalists have now been selected from each class for the Speech Competition, following a very high standard of semi-finals. Parents of finalists will receive a letter inviting them to attend the final on Monday 23rd March, which will be judged by one of our school Governors, Miss Linda Beckett. We hope that we will all enjoy a sensational day of 'projection, expression and clarity'!
Our very exciting Singing Competition for Years 2-6 will take place on Friday 5th June this year. Children should decide which category they would like to enter and choose a song. Next, fill in a slip and put into the boxes which can be found at the front of the Upper School hall. Entries must be submitted no later than Thursday 26th March. Semi-finals will be held during the first half of the summer term this year.
Once again, there is no set theme this year as we would like to hear songs from all different genres and perhaps a range of songs throughout musical history. Singing in other languages is permitted. The only restrictions are that we would like you to avoid singing pop songs and we would like to see only simple gestures and appropriate movements relevant to the performance. No dance moves please. Duets and groups are encouraged to add harmony/part singing to their performance.
The categories are:
Best solo singer from each year group.
Best group - trios (3) or quartets (4) only.
There should be just one solo entry per child but they may also participate in either a duet or a group. No summer term choir songs please!
A backing track is required (without words) for performance on the day; CD or ipod only. No piano accompaniments will be used this year, unless a child is playing the piano or guitar as part of their performance.
All winners will be invited to sing at the Singers’ Concert on 9th June.
Exhibition Day, Easter Service and Nursery/Reception Poetry Recital
We have taken the decision to postpone Exhibition Day, which was due to take place on Saturday 21st March, and to cancel the Upper School Easter Service, which was due to take place on Friday 27th March, as part of our action to mitigate against the risk of Coronavirus. We are sorry that these events will not take place this term but we are sure that parents will understand the reasons behind their cancellation. We are currently considering the format of the Nursery/Reception Poetry Recital and whether it will be possible for this to take place, and will contact parents about this in due course.
PA Easter Raffle
The PA has again donated prizes for a raffle for the children this Easter. All of the children are included in this free Easter egg draw with one prize drawn for each class. We hope that the lucky winners enjoy their prizes and we thank the PA for organising the raffle!
Rescheduled PA Forum Meeting Date
The next PA Forum meeting is now scheduled to take place in the Upper School Hall at 7 p.m. on Monday 27th April. Class rep's should send any points for discussion to Mrs. Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org by the first day of term please, to allow the school time to collate and research any issues before the meeting.
Posted on: 6/03/2020
Weekly News - Friday 6th March 2020What a wonderful day we had yesterday as we celebrated World Book Day! At Ducklings and Lower School, children and staff dressed up following their 'enchanted' theme and the pupils of Robins Nursery presented a beautiful book-themed assembly (see below).
At Upper School, the children arrived at Platform 9 3/4 to embark upon their Hogwarts adventure as the school grounds were adorned with Harry Potter themed signs. Staff and pupils enjoyed a day of Potter-themed activities and lessons, including riding 'broomsticks' in PE sessions! The following morning, 6M presented their Harry Potter assembly (see below). In response to a parent request, you can see here a picture of some of the many staff who dressed up as Hogwarts teachers and pupils!
Soula and her wonderful team provided a special 'enchanted' themed lunch and the Evans Hall was transformed into the Hogwarts Great Hall, with extra long tables and polyjuice potion smoothies. Accent Catering have provided some World Book Day themed recipes which you might like to try cooking with your children at home. You can see them here.
Thank you to all of the parents who worked hard to help your children dress up as characters from their favourite books - reading really did come to life at St. Helen's College this week and we couldn't have done it without you!
Robins Class Assembly - Books Books Books
Wow! The children of Robins Nursery really did enchant us all with their assembly performance on Thursday, as they stood up confidently in front of a hall full of adults and recited their lines and songs about books and all the magic to be found within them. Their costumes were really beautiful and it was particularly touching to see the children being such good friends to each other, as they helped each other to remember their lines and take their places. It is easy to forget that these children are only 3 and 4 years old when we see them able to command a room, remember lines and songs and present themselves so confidently. Very well done, Robins!
6M Class Assembly
We are grateful to the children of 6M, who presented a confident, musical and meaningful Harry Potter-themed assembly on Friday morning. Linking the Harry Potter stories neatly to our school values, they reminded us that friendliness is perhaps one of the most important values of all, and that bravery and perseverance often pay off. We were treated to a beautiful rendition of 'Double Double' by a Hogwarts-style choir and there was some super choreography and some humour too! Five of the girls also played Harry Potter themes on recorder, in parts, to begin the assembly. The pupils certainly showed off their excellent musical and acting skills and we are sure that, along with the children of 6RD, they are going to give us an end of year musical to remember this year - there is so much talent among them! Well done, 6M.
Year 1 Trip to Windsor Castle
Year 1 were very lucky with the weather on Tuesday, as the children and staff enjoyed a super day out at Windsor Castle, the largest and oldest inhabited castle in the whole world! The pupils really enjoyed learning all about the Queen and her favourite home.
Our annual Exhibition Day will take place on Saturday 21st March from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. This is a wonderful St. Helen's College tradition and we hope that all families will attend so that you may view the displays of children's work across the curriculum. Pupils should wear full school uniform please. Please note that Friday 20th March is a half day and that there will be no Funtasia available on this day as the staff prepare for Exhibition Day.
Speech Competition (Years 1- 6)
Well done to all of the children who have been reciting their poems in class this week. The teachers have been very impressed with the standard and have had the very difficult task of choosing class semi-finalists. When finalists have been selected from each class, the parents of finalists will receive a letter inviting them to attend the final on Monday 23rd March, which will be judged by one of our school Governors, Miss Linda Beckett.
Mr. Tovell will be leaving us at the end of this academic year to take up a new position at St. Alban's High School for Girls prep department. This is much closer to his home and will allow him more family time as his son Teddy starts school. Although we are very sorry to see him go, we wish him well in this new stage of his career.
We are currently recruiting and will announce details of new appointments soon.
It was a difficult week for the football team, who lost 3-1 to Heathrow on a challenging pitch in very wet, boggy conditions. Well done to the boys for their efforts on such a miserable day. Onwards and upwards!
Netball Borough Finals
Our netball team competed in the borough finals this week and put up a creditable performance on a rather dismal, rainy day. In the end, they won 4 matches and lost 2, and were placed 9th overall. Well done to the girls who took part.
Marks and Spencer's Little Garden
Marks and Spencer are currently running a promotion named 'Little Garden'. When you spend over £20 in the food hall or on food to order, M&S will give you a free seedling kit. You could use this to grow seedlings with your children at home or, if you find you have surplus kits, we would be very grateful if you would bring them to school for Ms Gilham, who will use them in our summer term Gardening Club.
Many thanks for your support - let's all get growing!
Posted on: 6/03/2020
Books, Books, Books
I was saddened to read an article in the Guardian newspaper last weekend which relayed the shocking statistic that a recent survey found that, in 2019, just 26% of under 18s spent some time each day reading. This is the lowest daily level recorded since the charity concerned first surveyed children’s reading habits in 2005. The research also found that fewer children enjoy reading, and that this declined with age: nearly twice as many 5 to 8 year olds as 14 to 16 year olds said they took pleasure from reading. Overall, just 53% of children said they enjoyed reading “very much” or “quite a lot” – the lowest level since 2013.
The research is so worrying because all educators and, I believe, the vast majority of parents know the value of reading for young children. Reading underpins absolutely everything in primary education: it teaches engagement, sparks curiosity, encourages focus and concentration, fires up the imagination and is the medium through which comprehension skills such as inference and extrapolation are taught and developed. By far the most important thing, educationally, that any parent can do with their young child is to model and inspire a love of books and reading, by reading widely themselves and spending time each day reading to and then with their child.
No child is too young for the joy of reading - even new-born babies enjoy the sound of a parent’s voice and the wonder and sense of discovery as that voice conveys different emotions: joy, excitement or suspense. Spending precious time with your child every day to share books is time extremely well spent. As your child grows older, you can mix it up, with you reading some parts of the book and them joining in. Children will memorise those children’s picture books that are regularly read to them and will enjoy, even before they can read themselves, telling the story as if they are reading. As they learn to associate the words on the page with the words they are hearing/saying, they are learning to read almost magically! Of course, we teach children to read at school using tried and tested methods, as well as the latest developments in pedagogical thinking, but it is at home that a love of reading can be inspired and embedded.
I am proud that, at St. Helen’s College, we inspire readers in so many ways: our teaching staff take great care to ensure that reading is regular, purposeful and enjoyable for the children; our well-stocked libraries offer a wide variety of fiction and non-fiction books, and children visit the school library and begin choosing books right from Nursery. Our dedicated librarians at Upper School run reading challenges, employ pupil librarians, create interesting and inspiring displays, refresh stock constantly and with great awareness of what will be of value to children, and are always ready with a recommendation. Guided reading in English lessons throughout the school and extra reading clubs add to the children’s positive and meaningful reading experiences, as do special themed days like the wonderful World Book Day we enjoyed this week.
We live in an ever-changing world, and other media are having their moment. Films, online content including short videos and social media memes are rife and do, of course, have some value. But there is absolutely no substitution for reading books in terms of setting your child up for success both inside and outside of school. Through books, children can discover all of life. They can ‘visit’ and gain understanding of other cultures; they can explore the emotions of themselves and others; they can imagine a world of colour and interest, actively developing their creativity in ways that they simply cannot by sitting passively in front of a screen.
So please, I urge you, support your child in their reading. We ask that parents throughout the school read with their children every single day and that you question your child to make sure that they have understood what you or they have read. Depending on their age, you might ask them to retell the story, ask them to think of an alternative ending, or ask them what the characters are feeling and why. You could ask them to find the words that the author has used that prove that their answers are correct. Children who are questioned in this way grow used to thinking carefully about what they are reading, which ensures excellent comprehension.
I do hope that World Book Day has inspired your children to want to read more, and I hope that parents will feel inspired too. If you can make time for this most important of activities, your child will thrive and you will hopefully experience some real joy each day too! I am sure that, at St. Helen’s College, the number of children who would say they enjoy reading is well over 53% - but we will not, and should not, rest until we are absolutely confident that it is 100%!