Head Master's Blog
Summer Term 2017
The Kindergarten and Nursery performances were every bit as wonderful as predicted and the children clearly enjoyed entertaining a packed hall full of parents, grandparents and family friends. Every aspect of ‘Meerkat Manners’ and ‘The Gingerbread Man’ was a delight to see and there was singing (the volume was particularly impressive), dancing (some planned and some just improvised on the day), laughter (from cast and audience) and only a few tears (mainly of joy). The teachers put a huge amount of hard work into these productions and to see everything go to plan was a great relief. It is the turn of Year One to take to the stage next week and I know that we are in for a real treat.
The Buddy Pizza Lunch took place on Wednesday and was thoroughly enjoyed by the children in Years 2 and 5. These friendships will be important when our senior children in the Pre-Prep become the youngest in the Prep School, so to have a buddy in Year 6 will be a big comfort. Pizza is a powerful tool in the bonding process!
This week we have seen our Girls’ Cricket Teams in action in two matches against East Devon. In two closely contested matches, the quality of cricket played was very impressive indeed and in the second of the two games, the result came down to the last ball of the match. With the Girls’ Cricket Club growing with every year, it is lovely to see so many new players enjoying the game.
If you asked the children to pick their best week of the whole year then I am certain that many would choose the week ahead. In fact, one or two parents may also agree. The Prep School is going to be very quiet indeed towards the end of the week as all of our children will be out on their residential trips. Year 3 are heading to Paignton Zoo, Year 4 to Folly Farm, Year 5 to Dartmoor and Year 6 to the North Devon coast. On top of that, there are trips around the local area, a Play in a Day for Year 5, film-training for Year 4 in readiness for their badger-watching and if that wasn’t enough, there is also the Creative Arts Week Exhibition being put together in readiness for after half-term. However, it is the staying away from home that causes the greatest excitement but also, in some cases, a fair degree of anxiety. Developing confident children is central to everything that we do and the residential trips certainly play their part but it can be a difficult lead in for children and parents alike. I have often been asked how best to manage this and I don’t think that there is a hard and fast rule. There are however, a few tips that may ease your child’s anxiety and in turn, make the whole experience more enjoyable for child and parent alike.
- Make sure that the residential trips are not your child’s first experience of sleeping away from home and away from you. Sleepovers with friends work well.
- Spend time packing their bags with them and if they can have some ownership in making sure that they have everything on the kit list, they will feel more in control when the time comes to head off.
- Make sure that your child takes something comforting with them such as a loved teddy or cherished possession (not their iPhone!).
- Listen to their worries and don’t dismiss them – their anxieties are real but will be influenced by how you react so focus on the positives. The more you show concern, the more concern they will feel.
- Reassure them that the teachers going will be there for them and will help them, just as they do every day in school. They want to enjoy the trips as well and happy and settled children is the key to that.
It is an important experience to have and is one that the children will look back on with great fondness. You can follow their adventures through the blogs on the home page of the Prep School website so please do take a look throughout the week.
Enjoy the sunshine this week!
Mon 22nd May 2017, 07:54
There is not a week that goes by without the children at Blundell’s Prep performing in some way. Just last week our musicians took part in the Junior and the Senior Tea-Time Concerts with over 60 children involved in performing solo pieces for parents to enjoy. For some of our more experienced musicians (as much as that term can be used for 11 year olds!) it was a well-known situation and one that they have become accustomed to over the years but for others, either through being new to the school or simply in the limelight for the first time, it was a nerve wracking experience. Talking to the children after the concerts, I asked them how they had felt before standing in front of 80 people to introduce their piece and they all said that same thing – nervous. Yet they conquered those nerves and performed their pieces, however small, with enthusiasm and confidence before the inevitable grin as they took the applause. You could see the joy in their eyes and a real sense of having achieved something significant and to my mind these seemingly small moments are actually incredibly important markers in the lives of these young children.
The ability to perform does not come about without some significant effort in preparation, nor does it come without difficult moments, but step by step, bit by bit, the more that children are asked to perform, the more confident they will become. Many of you will have seen this in your own children as they move through the school. I see it every Friday as I present children with awards and it is in the seemingly small details such as the firmness of a handshake, the strength of eye contact, the way that they walk to the front of the hall with shoulders back and head held high, or the smile that emanates from them as they receive the applause from their peers. These children have had opportunities to perform and the impact on them as individuals has been significant. We will see it this coming week as our Kindergarten children take to the stage for their summer play. Those who have previously shied away from taking centre stage will speak out, those who once looked down to the ground will look out to smiling mums and dads, and the volume of singing will increase with every minute. At the end of next week, we get the chance to see our very youngest children perform as our Nursery welcome friends and family to see their summer play and I can promise a real treat. Contrast this, the very beginnings of their time at Blundell’s Prep, with our Year 6 children in their final term preparing for a two-night performance of Dr Dolittle, and you see the progress that is made over many years.
What is it that gives children the tools to perform, not just in a play, but on any stage, be it academic, sporting, musical? Practice plays its part, as does opportunity, encouragement, self-belief and relentless support from those people who are tasked with shaping the lives of the children. Having inspirational role models is vital and here at BPS, we look for ways to bring the younger children together with the older ones for House events and, as is the case next week, the Buddy Pizza lunch! Our Year 5 pupils have been preparing a delicious menu for their Year 2 Buddies and on Tuesday they will sit down together to enjoy a slice of pizza and the chance to share news of what they have enjoyed but also what our Year 2 children can look forward to when they cross the car-park in September.
On Thursday of this week, the Devon County Show begins and we are hopeful for fine weather over the three days. If you are heading to the show then please do come and see us at the Blundell’s tent, which is situated directly opposite the Food Hall. We’ll be delighted to see you.
Best wishes for the week ahead.
Mon 15th May 2017, 07:29
On Friday afternoon it became very apparent that Blundell’s does indeed have talent, as children from years 3 to 6 (and a couple of very enthusiastic Maths teachers) went head-to-head in the BGT final. Having held heats in every form during last week, it was time for the final 10 acts to perform for the school with esteemed judges, Mrs Whitten, Miss Mahon and Mr ‘Simon Cowell’ Howkins given the unenviable task of choosing the top 3. Spirits were high as the audience gathered, not least because there was the promise of ‘Mocktails’ during post event celebrations and some treats available to buy on the school gate. The reason for all of these fund-raising initiatives? Well they are just a couple of examples of the work being done by our Year 6 children as part of their Blundell’s Adventure, Leadership and Service Award or BALSA as it is known.
Over the term, we have seen an extraordinary number of events taking place, and plenty that have not been seen as the award also focuses on small yet meaningful contributions to home life or the communities in which our children live. The emphasis is on them taking the lead at all times, whether it is baking for a cake sale, reading with younger siblings or, as we saw on Friday afternoon, stage managing a high quality school talent show. The team behind the show was Daisy, Isobel, Ottilie and our very own Ant and/or Dec, Alex and what a job she did. In fact, I may well hand my assemblies over to Alex, such was her confidence in front of the school.
The audience were held at fever pitch for 45 minutes during which they were wowed by Joel’s table tennis skills and the acrobatics of Nia, Bea, Amelia and Minna, but the act that stole the show was Ella, as she played the piano with a remarkable amount of poise when one considers that she is only just 7 and has been with us for a mere 2 weeks. As the judges declared her the winner, the children erupted in universal agreement and a rather stunned but beaming Ella took her prize and then played for us again, flawless with every note.
It is quite rare for me to be able to sit back and observe but on Friday afternoon I saw the very best of our school. The way that the talents of others were recognised and celebrated was wonderful to see and a shining example of the warmth within our school community. I’d like to finish by thanking all of the children and staff for acting as such wonderful ambassadors for the school during our Open Week. Lots of new families came to visit us and I am very proud of how they were welcomed.
Mon 8th May 2017, 11:15
The first full week of the term has simply flown by and here we are, about to start week 3. I wonder what the highlight of last week was for your child. Perhaps it was getting an award in assembly on Friday or maybe it was the much loved meatballs for lunch on Tuesday. It could have been the auditions for Blundell’s Got Talent or perhaps it was the Pre-Prep ballet performance, which took place on Thursday afternoon. For the children in our Kindergarten, it could be tough to choose as this week they have had visits from the Cats Protection League and The Dogs Trust, not on the same day of course, as that would not have been advisable, but in the space of just a few days. Cats or dogs? Which would you choose, I wonder? Our Year One children may well choose their visit to the School Chapel to learn more about its history and our Year 3 children may opt for their visit to the Buddhist Temple in Exeter as part of their work in RS. As you can see in the picture, the boys look very relaxed as they learn to meditate. A good number of children would likely choose the 8 matches taking place across Wednesday and Thursday afternoon, enjoyed in bright if not particularly warm weather. Hardy parent spectators may choose the tea break as their highlight, such was the quality of the jam and cream scones on offer. The UK Maths Challenge may well get the vote from our budding mathematicians in Years 5 and 6, even though it is very challenging and aimed at children in Year 8. Our pupils are always up for a challenge and every year they impress with their knowledge and application of maths. Judging by the amount of effort put into each of the four disciplines, I would suggest that a number of children would choose the Year 6 Quad Athletics event on Friday afternoon as their highlight of the week. Certainly, for Georgia W it was a huge high as she stormed to victory in the 800m. As I toured the school on Friday with a prospective new parent to BPS, she commented that there was so much for the children to choose from and she was absolutely right.
I am delighted to say that our speaker at Speech Day will be James Shone. James is the founder of the charity, “I can, and I am” (www.icanandiam.com) and he has a remarkable story to share with us. In previous blogs, I have written about the importance of a Growth Mindset and James is the living embodiment of this principle. He is currently rowing the length of The Thames and you can read all about it either through his website or by following his Twitter feed. Do join us on the 23rd June to hear more from James as his story is an inspirational one.
We are looking forward to welcoming new families to our Open Week over the next 5 days and the children will be immersed in all manner of activities, the first of which will be May Day related. I’m not quite sure how they will respond when I ask them to Morris Dance but you never know, it may be a hit!
Mon 1st May 2017, 07:43
I think that for me the tell-tale sign that Summer at Blundell’s Prep has begun is the wonderful scent of the apple blossom that hits you as you walk through the gate into the Prep School. It is glorious and when combined with the smell of freshly cut grass, is a sign that the days are longer and brighter and the most enjoyable term of the year is on its way. I do hope that you have all enjoyed the wonderful weather over the Easter break and it certainly looked as though people had been getting outside, or so it was suggested by the tanned faces that greeted me at the gate on Wednesday morning. The girls returned in summer dresses and the boys wheeled in gigantic cricket bags ready to discuss the latest equipment that had been purchased. Talk is of school plays, music concerts and the much anticipated residential trips for children in Years 3 to 6. It is an exciting term which is packed full of opportunities for all of the children to embrace and we encourage them to make the most of every moment.
In the interests of those parents who have kindly shown some concern over my well-being, I survived my sky dive with some shred of dignity still intact, although it was a close run thing. To my mind, the greatest achievement was curbing my language as I was perched on the edge of a 15,000ft drop and I have the video evidence to prove it. Just a subtle request for the Good Lord to keep me safe and off I went, hurtling to earth at 200mph for 60 seconds before the blessed relief as the parachute opened followed quickly by the overwhelming desire to feel terra firma once again. Sadly, the adrenaline rush and the subsequent dopamine buzz that I was promised did not materialise but that was just fine as I was alive and really that was all that I was worried about. Would I do it again? No. Am I glad that I did it? Yes, because it taught me that I can challenge my fears and overcome them, something that for the weeks leading up to the jump were seriously in doubt. I am no daredevil and as I have got older, so my awareness of my mortality has increased. Jumping out of a plane is not on my bucket list. What I did get was a fascinating insight into how I manage genuine fear, not nerves or anxiety, but something far more primordial, and in Monday’s assembly, I am going to be very open with the children regarding exactly how I felt in the hope that they will better understand the importance of feeling able to share their feelings at times of stress.
On Radio 1 this week, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge talked about the Heads Together campaign which is raising awareness of mental health issues and they highlighted the power that a simple conversation can have in helping people to accept their fears. We read in the news that mental health in children is an ever-growing issue and I would certainly agree with that as I have seen a significant rise in levels of stress and anxiety during my 20 years in teaching. Some of that may well come from a perceived need to suppress our true feelings and for children, fear is likely to be right up there with the key emotions that they feel they need to keep hidden. Facing up to our fears is important, but what is more important is an acceptance that fear is part of our lives and it is ok not just to be afraid but to let others know that you feel that way. It isn’t always easy to do that, but to my mind it is crucial part of child development. So my message to the children will be to accept those feelings as normal and understand that everyone around them feels as they do on occasions. It’s ok, not to be ok, and I think that is a message that we should share with all of our children if we are to help them to manage their ever changing lives.
Mon 24th Apr 2017, 07:55
Spring Term 2017
My final Blog of the term is going to be brief and I will let the pictures do the talking, but I couldn’t sign off without highlighting just how wonderful this final week of the term has been. Thanks to the efforts of Mr Coomer and Miss Purvis, Science has dominated the curriculum and the children have loved it! If Carlsberg made school assemblies then I imagine that they would look something like the one that we all enjoyed on Tuesday morning as Senior School Head of Chemistry, Mr Mead put on a chemistry show to end all chemistry shows. Those ‘awe and wonder’ moments that we look to bring to the lives of the children in their learning were a feature of the morning and there were chemical reactions aplenty as what appeared to be the entire contents of the senior school’s chemistry department were transported to the Prep School. Over the last four days the children across the school have enjoyed workshops led by the three Heads of Science at our senior school as well as wonderfully engaging sessions from our own Science teams at the Prep and Pre-Prep. In addition, on Thursday we welcomed Dr Matt Pritchard and the Science Magic Shows to the school and the children were ‘wowed’ once again as they explored ‘surprising science’ The show consisted of a combination of science and magic and really challenged the children through excellent questioning and thought provoking demonstrations. The older children were asked to think of different ways in which the ideas on display may be happening. This really supported our ideas in class when planning and writing up investigations. It has certainly been a super way to end what has been a busy term and thoughts now turn to the Summer and all that it brings. There is a great deal to look forward to but not before everyone has enjoyed a break over Easter. See you in three weeks’ time!
Mon 27th Mar 2017, 08:45
This last week has been as action-packed as ever with events aplenty going on across the school. You may have noticed the banners advertising our Early Years Open event and on Friday morning we welcomed lots of families to our Nursery for guided tours and a chance to see what wonderful opportunities are available to our very youngest children here at Blundell’s. It was a super event, masterminded by a team of people who provide an extraordinary level of care to our 2, 3 and 4 year olds. I can just about remember when my children went to Nursery. That feeling of anxiety that someone would give them a cuddle if they fell over and that they would be well fed with a variety of nutritious snacks, which I would invariably have rushed around trying to find at some ungodly hour of the morning. Clearly this was only on the rare occasions when I was tasked (trusted) with organising such things. Thankfully, in our Nursery that is all taken care of so parents can rest easy, safe in the knowledge that their children are receiving the very best care. It is such an important time for families and it has to be managed by experienced professionals who understand the best ways to nurture, guide and support not just the children but also the parents, who often look to teachers for help and advice. We are fortunate to have a wealth of experience in our Nursery and a group of people who are always looking for exciting and innovative ways to bring learning to life. This week for example, we welcomed paramedics and their Ambulance to the Pre-Prep and the children delighted in exploring every part of the vehicle as well as trying on some of the equipment. Earlier in the week, our Nursery children had been out and about in the local area, exploring the beautiful Grand Western Canal. There is never a dull day in the lives of our youngest children!
From time to time, I like to share news of goings on ‘behind the scenes’ here at BPS so that those who are kind enough to read the weekly blog can better understand some of the processes that are in place to monitor the quality of our provision and, most importantly, the impact of that provision on children’s achievement and personal development. To help us better understand that impact, I invite an experienced ISI Reporting Inspector into the school on an annual basis and this year our guest was tasked with scrutinising policies and putting our understanding of regulatory compliance to the test. Teaching and non-teaching staff were kind enough to volunteer to answer questions and several teachers asked to be observed teaching. Not only does this allow them to get comprehensive feedback from an inspector, but it also gives us the opportunity to gain an objective view on our on-going programme of observations, helping us to develop teaching and learning at the Prep School. Self evaluation plays such an important part in our daily lives and when the weeks are packed full of events, it is vitally important that we step back and consider ways to further enhance our offering.
It is also good to hear that what we are offering is very impressive and one only needs to consider what has taken place this week to see that in practice. On Tuesday, our Year 1 and 2 children played their netball and football house matches with plenty of enthusiasm and a healthy amount of competition. Our U9 netball players have been in fine form, winning competitions at Queen’s and at Exeter in recent weeks and then at Millfield this weekend they were once again undefeated. They are going great guns and that is very exciting indeed. Our Under 10 netball players competed well at the Exeter Tournament on Saturday morning and also in action this weekend were the Under 8 boys’ hockey teams as they travelled to Millfield to play in a festival. They had a super time and thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to play competitive hockey against other schools from our region. On Friday afternoon, many of our children headed over to ‘Ten Acre Field’ as it is known for the annual Larkman Cup. Sadly, the sunshine enjoyed on Thursday was a distant memory and conditions were somewhat cooler as the children raced around the short but challenging course. Our runners combined very well as a team and managed to come away with the overall win against some talented opposition. I imagine that this will stand them in good stead as they take one another on in the House Cross Country on Monday afternoon.
Those who were in Big School on Wednesday evening will have been hugely impressed with the quality of musicianship shown by our children as they joined forces with senior school students and members of the London Chamber Orchestra for a Spring Concert. I am certain that our young musicians will never have experienced anything quite like it as they performed alongside some extraordinarily gifted musicians. My abiding image from the evening will be of the four Prep School trombonists, Hector, Charlie and the two Harrys, all looking splendid in their blazers and shorts, blasting out the tune at the front of the stage and very much part of the whole orchestra. I’m sure that it will be an evening that they will remember for many years to come.
As we embark on the final five days of the Spring Term, we look forward to welcoming the Senior School Heads of Biology, Chemistry and Physics to the Prep School for Science Week 2017. I am told that there will be explosions, which I am sure the children will be very delighted about. On Friday, we head to Chapel for the Easter Service, which promises to be a wonderful way to end the term. The children will be in home clothes as we are supporting Comic Relief and I know that the Reverend Steffi Jeffs has something exciting planned so please do join us if you can.
Mon 20th Mar 2017, 09:50
It actually felt as if Summer was on its way as I watched our U8 and U9 boys and girls playing sport on Thursday afternoon. It was glorious and that was a sentiment shared by all who were there on the sidelines. Isn’t it amazing how the arrival of sunshine can have such a profound impact on the human spirit? Continuing on that somewhat spiritual theme, for this week’s Blog, I have invited our Pre-Prep Religious Studies Co-ordinator, Mrs Suzy Allen to share some of her thoughts on why the teaching of RS remains an important part of every child’s education. At Blundell’s Prep, we offer an extraordinarily broad curriculum and RS plays a key part in that, as Suzy explains.
Teaching RS – Why it matters
It is a commonly held belief that RS lessons in schools just teach children about different religions and I can understand why people think this when they reflect back on their experiences at primary school. It is however a much wider subject that we teach now and is fundamental in preparing pupils for their future in our diverse multicultural society. Children do need to understand faith issues and the different religious traditions but they also need to learn about ethics, spirituality, critical thinking and reflection. RS nowadays needs to equip children with a cultural, social, moral, emotional and spiritual knowledge so they can play their part in our ever-evolving society.
So how do we go about doing this?
Using enquiry based learning, which promotes asking questions, even the youngest children begin to reflect and empathise. For example, through the topic ‘Where do we belong?’, they consider what it means to be part of a family, community or religious group and talk about places of worship. As they progress through school they grapple with moral and ethical problems and begin to engage with the big questions of life – How did the world begin? Why do poverty and war exist? They develop philosophical thinking and social understanding – What does it mean to be human? and look at issues of right and wrong. They learn to evaluate sources and to articulate personal beliefs.
Through RS, we are able to explore a wide range of cultures, beliefs and values. While learning about the different religions children reflect on the similarities and differences. Our children are able to learn first-hand through visits to places of worship - the school’s chapel, local churches, Exeter Cathedral, a mosque and a synagogue, which enhances their understanding of religions. They experience the sense of awe that comes from being inside these buildings and seeing artefacts. We are fortunate in having wonderful support from members of the local community who visit school to lead assemblies and share their knowledge such as vicars, family workers and charity groups.
Stories are a fantastic way to engage with children and they love those in the Bible and other religious books. The stories help us to learn so many valuable lessons and offer opportunities for reflection and questions. Only last week the Rev Andy Humm had the Pre-Prep children enrapt as he used the story of Noah’s Ark to show the importance of the colours in the rainbow working together – that they were all important and all equal, and we never tire of the Christmas story and the Nativities and plays the children perform for us.
Celebrations are something we all love and the children enjoy learning about Christian ones and those from other cultures and religions. From celebrating Christmas and Easter, birthdays and weddings to Diwali and Holi, there are opportunities to appreciate the importance of culture and diversity.
So back to the original question – Does RS matter? Is it important to teach it? The world is smaller than it used to be and we are surrounded by people of different cultures, backgrounds and faiths. Tomorrows adults need to know about those faiths as it affects how people relate to each other. RS encourages philosophical thought, decision making skills and the search for compromise and conflict resolution. All these are vital skills, which our youngsters will need when they reach adulthood - through learning RS at school, they are being equipped for the future.
Mon 13th Mar 2017, 08:05
Every week at Blundell’s Prep is note-worthy but this one has been especially so. As Head of the Prep School, I have the privilege of recognising the children’s successes in our Awards Assembly and this week has seen the children taking part in all manner of different things, as well as working hard in the classroom of course. I wouldn’t usually pick out one event but this week I simply have to. On Tuesday afternoon, our Quiz Club team headed off to Millfield for the annual Regional Competition. You may recall that we have entered this competition for the last 3 years and have enjoyed some success but never the first prize. This year, Mr Moore carefully selected an elite group of quizzers from his weekly club and off they headed to pit their wits against other schools from our region. The team was made up of Jesse from Year 3, William from Year 4, James from Year 5 and team captain, Hector from Year 6. They had been well prepared; they knew their flags and their capitals, their history and their science, their Chaucer and their Shakespeare, they were a finely tuned quiz conquering machine, and so it proved to be as they returned victorious having beaten all comers to be crowned regional champions. The excitement was palpable, not just from those four children and their families, but from the whole school who gave them a huge cheer as they raised the trophy aloft in assembly. The next round beckons and we wish them the very best of luck.
While the quiz team were in action, our budding cross-country runners were running their hearts out at Stover. With our Under 11 Boys winning their group and the Under 9 girls winning theirs, the team were in a strong position to gain the overall victory. It was a true team effort with every place counting to the overall result. The team will be confident as they try to retain the Larkman Cup in few week’s time.
The rest of the Prep School were put to work in the annual Pancake Races. Industrial strength pancakes had been prepared, the course had been laid out and tactics had been well rehearsed but in the end it was Raleigh who took the much-coveted win. The poor pancakes stood up well in spite of some pretty rough treatment – high winds do not lend themselves to pancake tossing so there were moments when it appeared they would be blown away! Thankfully, Miss Lampard had used an industrial strength recipe, not at all similar to the delicious pancakes served up at lunchtime.
On Friday, our U11 netball and hockey players were in action at their respective regional qualifiers for the nationals. Both sides came tantalisingly close to qualification with the girls coming 6th and the boys 5th out of 35, with 4th or better ensuring a place in the national finals. Still, these results were very impressive indeed and illustrate just how much progress our teams have made this term.
As always, there has been plenty of music going on this week and on Friday some of our children joined the London Chamber Orchestra and enjoyed a workshop in preparation for the Spring Concert in a fortnights time. Our talented musicians will be joining senior school musicians to work alongside the LCO and the end result is likely to be very special indeed. Sticking to the musical theme, on Friday evening the Prep School children enjoyed their disco, dancing and singing their hearts out whilst consuming various tasty treats supplied by our wonderful Friends of Blundell’s Prep Committee. While this was going on in the Prep, the Pre-Prep party was in full swing with Mr Bumble up to his usual antics resulting in astonishing levels of laughter and excitement.
As we look to the week ahead, our Year 6 children will have the opportunity to undertake the Bikeability Scheme, so keep your eyes out for them if you are out and about in Tiverton over the coming few days. We welcome the Roving Book Fair to the school and with the enjoyment of reading amongst Prep School children on the increase this term, I imagine that they will be keen to pay it a visit. The end of the week will see an outdoor learning day for Year 3 to 6 while the pre-Prep host their Nursery Café event, fingers crossed for good weather.
Mon 6th Mar 2017, 09:03
This week, I have enjoyed one of my highlights of the year. As part of the process for preparing children as they start to think about moving between our Pre-Prep and our Prep, we hold a Transition Day and part of that involves every child having a five-minute chat with me. I say ‘chat’ because that is exactly what it is. Not an interview, no fixed agenda, no tough questions (maybe a few for me to answer but more of that in a moment) and lots of laughter. So on Thursday afternoon I embarked on two and half hours of chatting as one by one, our Year 2 children joined me in the Library. As always, there were a huge array of topics discussed, helped in part by each child bringing an object of interest for them to talk about. I learnt about Monster Trucks, fossils, Hand Boilers, and a good measure of Lego Ninjago. I heard about family pets, favourite football teams, tap dancing, and Scott and I even had a bit of a kick about with the football he had brought in but only if he promised not to tell Mrs Filmer-Bennett! It was a super afternoon and emphasised just how important it is for us as educators and parents to teach our children to communicate. I know that at times I can sound like a broken record, and after 5½ years of writing this blog it is perhaps understandable, but one of the most important things that we can help our children with is learning how to speak to people, whatever walk of life they may come from. Can your 6 year old look someone in the eye, shake them by the hand, share something that interests them and perhaps even ask them a question or two? What struck me on Thursday afternoon was just how good our Year 2 children are at doing just that. They were charming, engaging, polite, interesting and interested, all qualities that one or two adults I have met would do well to mirror. This was reinforced further when I sat in on a Q&A session in which the Year 2 children were able to ask anything of our Head Girl, Georgia and our Head Boy, Archie. It was fascinating to listen to their questions, which were not only asked with maturity, but were also quite revealing about how these children feel about moving to the Prep School. They asked about play times, classrooms, and, most importantly, when they get to eat. There were also questions about how they could one day become Head Boy or Head Girl. The answer from Georgia and Archie? Be good, work hard, be polite, look after people and make a contribution, was their key advice and I think they are absolutely right. Interestingly, they didn’t mention being the best in class, in music or on the games field, they simply focused on being their best person that they could be and I think that is good advice from our senior role models who are the ripe old age of 10!
Looking to next week, our Year 6 children will have the opportunity to take another step towards joining the Senior School as they spend Saturday afternoon enjoying Art and Design workshops and a treasure hunt alongside those children who will join Blundell’s from other schools. Let’s hope that they are not too jaded after the much loved, Prep School Disco on Friday evening! Before that, there are the usual sporting fixtures to enjoy, with the cross-country meets starting with a trip to Stover and our U11 boys heading to Clifton College for the IAPS Hockey Regionals. The Pancake races take place on Shrove Tuesday and we welcome Mr Bumble to the Pre-Prep Party, so just a normal week at Blundell’s Prep.
Mon 27th Feb 2017, 07:55
This week I have asked Head of Boys’ Games, Mr Simon Swain to share his thoughts on the recent half term sports tour to Jersey, which takes place every year. For four action-packed days, our children play in ‘international matches’ and explore every inch of the island. On top of the sport and the sightseeing, the children also get a great deal more from their time away on tour, as Mr Swain explains.
‘Friendship, comradery, fun, laughter, food, cooked breakfast, early start, full day’ are just a few words that have been used to sum up the Jersey tour over the last 10 years. Previous to that the school toured Cork, Dublin and Amsterdam but Jersey was the best place to go. The island is only a short hop by plane, it has held onto the pound, it is very welcoming, there are a great many things to do and the beaches are fantastic, even in February!
I took part in many overseas trip and sports tours as a child with Plymouth College and various clubs I was involved with. These trips changed me as each time I came back my parents would comment on how I’d either grown up a bit, how I managed or organised my time better, how much more chatty I’d become and how I looked after my pocket money better. Having had many successful experiences touring as a child I was delighted that my first teaching post at Cranmore Prep School in Surrey offered their children the opportunity to go on a tour. This was to Jersey and laid the foundation for the tours at Blundell’s Prep.
When I began my career at Blundell’s Prep, I started touring and each year the stories that came back from the tour excited the next year group to go which included the staff who were always keen to volunteer to go. It is hard to put a label on what makes it so successful and enjoyable, but friendship, fun and laughter are key ingredients. When can anybody go to a German War bunker with over 30 of their friends? Or explore a castle dating back hundreds of years with their mates? Or take on the best sportsmen and women on the island in an international match at U11? There is so much that goes on on tour that it’s not always possible to tell every story on returning. There are always a few days post tour during which the stories keep coming out. There might be stories about great disco dancing, making and throwing food parcels to some of the animals at the Durrell Zoo or the sand castles made on St Helier’s golden beach. Over time, a flavour of the tour filters out and everybody will have their tale to tell. Often children will ask parents if they can go back to Jersey and take their family on the tour they took part in.
‘Stand by your beds for room inspection!’ This isn’t the case anymore, but rooms are checked for toothpaste and shower gel use so friendships don’t fall out. Unpacking is a big part of settling into a hotel (although the children are so busy the hotel is simply a base to sleep and eat in). Finding one’s space in a shared room is important and encouraged. Also being able to find the correct kit to dress in is important as there are only their friends in their room to help. This responsibility often takes a day or two to sink in and children return to rooms to get pieces of kit or clothing that they are reminded they need to take. Then room keys come into play and who looks after them in the room, who hands them in and who loses them. Within the first twenty minutes, the master key is borrowed from reception so it is often the case that staff are issued one for the day so keys locked in rooms can be retrieved without wearing out the hotel porter.
Blundell’s good name is well known across the world and every year we meet people who stop and talk to the staff and children as they have a connection to the school. The Blundell’s community doesn’t stop at the school gates and it is very warming to see and hear the children enjoying a story from an OB who has recognised the school name. From airport security staff to the FlyBe cabin crew, to the hotel waiters and the officials at the matches the children play in, we only hear praise about their behaviour, maturity, respect for those around them and the happiness with which they talk to their friends. This glow felt by the staff is the reason they come back year after year and why the tours are successful and a huge amount of fun.
Mon 20th Feb 2017, 08:00
Today we embark on one of the highlights of the year as children across the Pre-Prep and Prep begin Creative Arts Week. It is 5 days of creativity-filled learning with art, music and drama providing the blueprint for a whole series of projects and performances. On top of that, we welcome guest artists, directors and animators to work alongside the teachers and children, not to mention some willing parent volunteers. Anyone who has set foot inside the Prep School will be aware of the quality of artwork that is produced by our children and for this week’s blog I asked Prep Art Co-ordinator, Mrs Aldridge to share some of her thoughts on the importance of creativity.
There is so much planned for the week that I thought I’d provide daily updates and pictures so please do visit this page again to see what the children get up to. It promises to be loads of fun.
The importance of a creative curriculum
Year 5 and 6 children helped me get ready for Creative Arts Week by making some posters. You can see their fantastic efforts displayed around the school – colourful drawings of people surfing, strange sea creatures and a beautiful butterfly.
We were playing Anthony Browne's Shape Game, a drawing game that he used to play with his brother. It's a very simple game that starts with the first person drawing an abstract shape, without thinking about it. The next person transforms the shape into something recognisable.
"Although on one level it's just a game, I believe that it encapsulates the act of creation... everything comes from something else, inspiration is everywhere..."
As children get older, it is a sad fact that they are encouraged to draw fewer pictures and to write more words. It is at this time, when children stop drawing that their natural creativity diminishes. The internet is awash with websites making suggestions about how creativity in children can be encouraged.
- Motor skills
- Language development
- Visual learning
- Cultural awareness
Just by playing this simple game, children are expressing their ideas visually and developing their creative thinking skills.
I hope that everyone enjoys Creative Arts Week this year... having the opportunity to try new art techniques, to work with visiting artists but most importantly having time to draw. So, pick up a pencil and sketch something. Craft something and let's make more art.
Creative Arts Week got off to a fantastic start yesterday with a huge amount going on across the Prep and Pre-Prep. The seaside theme saw Year 6 heading down to the Senior School for a morning creating stunning acrylic fish, mono printing and utilising the dark room to create some unique seaside photographs whilst Year 5 got stuck into making clay beach huts and puppets. Year 4 went slightly retro and were tie-dying T-shirts as well as learning the art of batik. Year 3 enjoyed getting their hands dirty creating underwater creatures from clay and drawing some beautiful wax resist fishes. The Pre-Prep were equally busy creating seaside paintings, concertina fish puppets, fishy peg puppets and computer based mosaic sea pictures. The entire school also enjoyed a wonderful Punch and Judy show, with popcorn of course, from Professor Wilson whose amazing collection of puppets brought this traditional entertainment to life for a new generation. Can Tuesday with its Play in a Day for Year 2, animation workshops for Year 6 and visiting artists across the school be as much fun? I am certain it will be.
Day 2 of Creative Arts Week and there has been plenty for the children to get stuck into once again. Year 3 children spent the morning using willow to weave fish. Year 4 made shadow puppets and Year 5 were carefully sculpting clay beach huts. Year 6 had the opportunity to use their Lego models and Sylvanian Families characters to create stop motion animations with guest animator, Ed Joblin. It was a busy day with all of these activities to enjoy and much more besides. In the Prep-Prep there was great excitement, not just from the prospect of more mono-printing but also because the time had come for Year 2 to put together a 'Play in a Day' with the help of Kate from Big Foot. The children spent the day learning about scene setting, characterisation and the art of a speedy costume change in preparation for a performance in front of parents. It was a fascinating process and one that saw all of the children take an active role in the day. They certainly learnt a huge amount. Tomorrow it is the turn of Year 4 to take to the stage whilst the Pre-Prep children will venture outside for an afternoon of foraging for materials fit for a King or Queen. We look forward to seeing their creations!
Day 3 and the creativity showed no signs of abating. Today saw Year 4 become pirates as they took on a ‘play in a day’ before wielding cutlasses to recover treasure from a regurgitating sea monster, as you do! Year 6 were in animating action again as well as working on their individual fish canvases, many of which will, I am sure, be taking pride of place on bedroom walls over the coming months. Year 3 took inspiration from the late Andy Warhol as they used ICT to create some extraordinary looking sea creatures and Year 5 had a screen-printing masterclass from Tony Minion, the result of which is the most fantastic 4 metre long print depicting underwater life all the way up to the sun soaked sky, and every layer in-between. My description does it no justice at all but the children’s creation will soon be hung in the Prep School Reception for everyone to enjoy. The Pre-Prep children were blessed with good weather as they ventured outside for an afternoon of crown-making, outdoor inspired poetry and a jolly good sing song, preparing the vocal chords for tomorrow’s highlight, the House Music Competition. I was delighted to receive my own crown, made by Colin in Year One, who insisted that I have my own and with the kind donation of sticks and leaves coming from Oliver in Year 2.
I did want to make special mention of the parents who have given their time so generously to come and support the children this week. It has been lovely to welcome so many helpers including one of our Governors, Father Richard Maudsley, who spent the whole day with the children. Day 4 approaches and there is much still to look forward to. Who will lift the House Music Cup? Guest judge, Mrs Smith and her tone-deaf side-kick (me) will have to decide. Visit the blog again tomorrow to find out...
And the winner is... Raleigh! Cue rapturous applause from one third of the audience and polite, if not somewhat disappointed applause, from the other two thirds. What an afternoon of music we had today with all of the children from Kindergarten to Year 6 involved. There was whole house singing and small group choirs, wind groups, guitar groups, brass groups and a selection of piano trios and quartets. For an hour and a half, the children performed with great gusto to impress our guest judge, Mrs Clare Smith and impressed she most certainly was. The scores for each piece were added together, and it was a tight call, but in the end it was Raleigh who lifted the much-prized Bruce Cup, a feat not enjoyed by that House for some years. Mrs Smith gave all of the children some excellent advice about their musical futures and that was to think about two words, both of which begin with the letter ‘O’. The first was ‘Opportunities’, and she encouraged everyone to embrace all that is on offer at the school, be that music related or not, and the second was to be ‘Open’ to new ideas and experiences, as the opportunities are only worth something if we are open to making the most of them. One only has to look back over the last four days to see the children following Mrs Smith’s advice and in tomorrow morning’s Awards and House Music Assembly we will celebrate all that has been achieved and enjoyed. Do join us from 8.30am if you can.
Not every day at the Prep School begin with parents being serenaded with Justin Timberlake’s ‘Can’t Stop the Feeling’ by 150 children but today was that day, and we even added in the bonus of some staff dancing. I think I noticed one or two of our guests grooving away and some even succumbed to the urge to join in with the singing. It was the perfect way to start our celebration assembly in which all three houses performed for our 80+ guests and thanks were given to the many people who have made Creative Arts Week such a success.
I hope that the daily blog updates have provided a flavour for all that has been taking place this week. I realise that I wax lyrical about the breadth of opportunities and the lovely atmosphere that exists across the school but to my mind we have something very special here and Creative Arts Week brings that to my attention even more forcefully than a ‘normal’ working week, if such a thing can truly exist in a school. This week has been packed full of fun and from that starting point, wonderful things can be achieved. I hope that you take the time to ask your child what they thought of this week and I would imagine that you will see a twinkle of excitement in their eyes.
Today has seen mosaics made in Year 6, big acrylic fish in Year 3, photo collage in Year 4 and wax resist in Year 5. Today is also Poetry Slam Day so the children have been battling it out with their poetic creations to see who will be crowned champion. The deadline for this final blog of the week is 15.30 hours today so you may have to wait to hear the result! The Pre-Prep children have thoroughly enjoyed their Poetry Day and this afternoon I watched as children as young as 3 years old, stood in front of their friends and the teachers, reciting poems. There were funny ones and long ones, scary ones and animal ones, all delivered with confidence in an effort to impress our guest judges, the Year 8 Speech and Drama students, accompanied by Mrs Milne and Mr Rochfort from the Senior School. It was the perfect way to end such a wonderful week and I finish by thanking all of the teachers who have worked so hard to make it happen. Happy half term to you all.
Mon 6th Feb 2017, 07:30
I imagine that 75 of our Year 5 and 6 children feel slightly jaded this morning after their exertions at yesterday's Young Voices Concert. In truth, I think that 6 members of staff probably feel that way too! For the third year, we headed to the NEC Genting Arena in Birmingham to join 6,500 other children in putting together a two hour performance to remember. Having made the journey up the M5, making the customary stop at Gloucester Farmshop services to get Mrs Bruce a latte, the children were in good spirits as rehearsals began and many of them were word perfect, even when singing in Welsh. The same could not be said for the male members of staff who needed the assistance of the lyrics sheets to help them and even then it was a struggle! After several hours of run through it was time for the children to re-fuel (6,500 children packed together in one place eating is quite an experience, I can tell you – not a time for the table manners police to be at work) before heading to our seats for the start of the concert. With t-shirts donned and pocket lights in hand we prepared for two hours of singing, beat-boxing and a level of excited screaming that may have permanently damaged my hearing. There was also dancing, although I appreciated the e-mail feedback from several parents that I received during the concert to tell me that my dancing was terrible. I continued, much to the amusement of the children and the utter disgust of my son. Our children were absolutely brilliant and as I stood back (stopping dancing for a short while) to watch them all singing their hearts out, I was incredibly proud of them all. It was a long day and utterly exhausting for them but they gave it everything and behaved impeccably throughout. I am sure that they will remember the experience for many years to come.
That was Friday but there has been a great deal more going on this week. Whilst most of our senior pupils were singing in Birmingham, our Year 3 children were transported back to a world of mummification and shadufs as they immersed themselves in all things Egyptian. The customary toilet roll mummification process took place, internal organs were removed and masks were made, all of which contributed to a super day.
It has been a week of History as on Thursday, Year One children explored the Great Fire of London and life during the 1600s whilst on Monday we were visited by Good King Hal who was in fine form and keen to lop off some heads. Every year he offers the children the chance to win a necklace that was given to him during a film shoot at Hever Castle and he does this at every school that he visits. No-one has ever got the question right, but this year Amara did, winning possession of the coveted prize, much to her delight. She was asked to demonstrate how the heavily over-weight and gluttonous king would have eaten his meals which year on year results in the children depicting a cave man style tearing of flesh from the bone but instead, Amara mimed the careful use of a dagger to cut pieces of meat before eating them delicately with her other hand. She was correct and the king duly handed over the treasure without any sense that the axe man would be called for. It is certainly lovely to see all of the children across the school taking such a keen interest in history.
This week saw the Scholarship results for our Year 6 children announced and I am delighted to say that 11 awards were made, the most in a number of years, and this is an indication of the talent within our senior cohort as well as the excellent work done by their teachers. My congratulations go to all of the children who entered the scholarship process as they all worked hard and did their very best.
If you are reading this blog on Monday morning then we may well be in the middle of our annual Grandparents' Day. The last count on Friday afternoon suggested that we would be welcoming 122 grandparents to the Pre-Prep and Prep so as I sit writing this blog I am hoping that we have enough chairs not to mention scones! It is always a highlight of the year and I know that the children are very excited. We have some entertainment lined up as well as the opportunity to join classes across the school so I hope that our guests are ready to join in.
My best wishes for the week ahead.
Mon 30th Jan 2017, 14:20
This week, I have invited Madame FitzHerbert to share her thoughts on the importance of learning another language. As you will know, our children start to learn French in the Nursery and as they move through the Senior School there are opportunities to broaden this further with Spanish, Latin, Greek, German and Mandarin. I certainly wish that I had paid more attention during language lessons at school and I imagine that I am not alone in that. It’s never too late so perhaps this excellent blog will tempt you to learn a new language? Passe une bonne semaine!
What’s the point in speaking another language?
On a journey to the beach in the Christmas holidays, my son and his friend were discussing this very question. “There’s no point in learning another language. We’re so lucky, everyone in the world speaks English.” I overheard them saying. And yet... I saw the utter joy on my son’s face when he learnt four or five words of Greek and got to use them on a summer holiday to Corfu. There is certainly something special about the human connection which says ‘I have made the effort to learn and practise some words in your language’. Each time he used them, the Corfiots looked delighted and so did he.
So, was he lucky to be born into an Anglophone family? Maybe? But maybe not...
A language learning website we subscribe to here at Blundell’s Prep, Linguascope, has as its strapline,
"'Monolingualism can be cured.'"
Seeing it as disease from which you need to be cured rather than a lucky coincidence about where you happened to be born is, in my opinion, to use a French phrase, a better 'point de départ'.
In 20 years of teaching French and Spanish across different settings and different age groups, I have had the odd reluctant teenager ask me, ‘Miss, why bother learning French? I’m never going to go there.’ My reply would always be, “How do you know, at the age of 15, what you’re never going to do?!’
So, need some more convincing? Why learn another language? Here goes:
- Increase your confidence
- Get to know and understand another culture
- Develop better listening skills
- Improve your global awareness
- Improve your English as you learn the mechanics of a second language
- Extend your vocabulary
- Develop your analytical skills
- Increase your employability
- Enhance your travel opportunities
- Salaries are higher for bilingual workers than unilingual workers
- Learn to offer a hand of friendship in a world of closing doors
"One language sets you in a corridor for life. Two languages opens every door along the way."
And specifically, why learn French?
- 200 million people in the world understand, speak, read or write French
- French is the official language of 33 countries
- French is one of the official languages of the Olympic Games and of the United Nations
- Roughly half the words in modern English are borrowed from French
- It is the language of art, cuisine, dance and fashion
And finally, in a week where we were encouraged by our headmaster in assembly to flex our memory muscles and give them a good workout, I recently read that ‘For monolingual adults, the mean age for the first signs of dementia is 71.4. For adults who speak two or more languages, the mean age for those first signs is 75.5. Studies considered factors such as education level, income level, gender, and physical health, but the results were consistent.’
One of my favourite quotes on this topic needs no explanation and I shall conclude with this,
"If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart."
Mon 23rd Jan 2017, 09:30
There was a slight tinge of disappointment on Friday morning, as the much-anticipated snow did not arrive. On Thursday the children were talking of building snowmen, dusting down their toboggans and sledges, and maybe, just maybe, having a ‘snow day’. One of our younger pupils asked me if I thought I might get ‘snowed-in’ to which I replied that I thought I’d just about be able to make my way across the car-park, although...
I am sure that you will have fond memories of the excitement when snow was on the forecast and in fact one of the best school days that I had as a teacher was back in 2010 when snow closed the school that I was working at but we had a house full of boarders to entertain. Suffice to say that lessons took on an alternative format for the day as we built the biggest snowball imaginable and spent the afternoon sliding down the steepest hill that we could find on gym mats. Making happy memories is such an important part of school life and I am always so pleased to see smiling children as they come to school, whether it be on the first day of term or on a morning when the dream of a glistening white covering has not materialised!
The theme of my assembly on Tuesday was ‘Making the right choice’ and I began with the reference to New Year’s Resolutions and the choices we make, both in selecting the resolution and then sticking to it. Honor, Tilly, James and Guy joined in by dressing up in some rather ridiculous clothes to illustrate how we choose to dress according to the weather and we then played a much loved game of ‘peas and carrots’ in which you have to make immediate choices when presented with two options, the first being, unsurprisingly, peas or carrots? We then moved on to “ice-cream or chocolate” with a split decision, although not when I asked the staff to decide – chocolate the overwhelming winner that time! The final question was “maths or English” and in spite of Mr Morris and Mr Richards spurring the children on to support their respective subjects, it did sound like Maths had the edge. We finished with some of our Year 3 children helping to show how important it was for us all to be mindful of the choices that we make and how they impact not just our own lives but also the lives of others. It is a message that I share often but it is one that the children are keen to get right.
It has been wonderful to welcome so many new families to the school this term, with 15 children starting with us across all year groups. Not only have the children been made welcome but also the parents have too with my wife, Sarah hosting a coffee morning at our home for those who have joined the school this academic year, as well as members of our Friends of Blundell’s Prep and our Parent Liaison reps. The children have got straight in to the action with Year 6 enjoying an afternoon in the woods on Thursday and our Under 9 boys playing their first hockey match for the school. Twenty of our Year 6 cohort sat their Scholarship exams on Friday morning and we wish them all the very best when the results come out in 10 days’ time. Next week it will be the turn of our Year 3 children to get outdoors for their outdoor learning afternoon before they welcome their parents to lunch on Friday. Fish and chips on the menu so well worth a visit! We also welcome members of the Senior School Maths department to the Prep school to sit in on lessons and share good practice, just another example of how the Prep and Senior school are building ever closer links.
I’ll leave the final words for this week to one of our new parents who when asked how things were going, simply replied “Everyone is just so nice and my children are really happy” and that is exactly how we want people to feel as part of our school community.
Happy New Year to you all.
Mon 16th Jan 2017, 09:05
Autumn Term 2016
I am pleased to say that I had a number of responses to my challenge set in last week’s blog, and that number was 2! There were in fact 8 different Christmas performances over the last two weeks and the lucky winners were offered their choice of Christmas themed pencil – you regret not answering the question now, don’t you? This last week we have seen our Year 3 and 4 children combine forces to entertain their parents and grand-parents with two performances of ‘Super Star’, a heart-warming tale of a troupe of shining stars, all wishing to take the lead role in the Nativity story. The children did a wonderful job and clearly enjoyed the experience, singing their hearts out with big smiles on their faces. Our Year 5 and 6 children brought ‘Mr Partridge’s Amazing performing Troupe’ to Blundell’s Prep, complete with everything from Twelve Lords a Leaping down to Two Turtle Doves and everything in between – can you recite the entire song? Well our very own Father Christmas (aka Kit) managed to do just that to rapturous applause. The searing heat of the stage lights could not break through the layers of make-up or deter our 87 performers from entertaining two packed school halls, and what a super job those children did. The final performance of the term was most certainly the sweetest as it was the turn of our Nursery children to take to the stage. Now it is a bit of a lottery as to how the big day of the performance will go as a hall full of 100 people can be very intimidating when you are 3 years old, but our youngest children were undaunted and sang their hearts out. Their nativity marked the end of a very busy few weeks and I am, as ever, grateful to the team of teachers and teaching assistants who put so much thought and effort in giving the children the best experience that they can.
Watching our very youngest children on the stage brought to mind the incredible performance of ‘Into the Woods’ that I had the privilege of watching the night before in the Ondaatje Theatre. Our senior students were simply remarkable as they brought Sondheim’s work to the stage with a quality that would not have looked out of place in the West End. Interestingly, the audience was also packed with Prep School children and when I spoke to them the next day, they were in awe of what they had seen. My comment to them, “You could do that in the future” was met with broad grins and a sense of excitement but when you see our 3 and 4 year olds performing with such confidence at such a young age, you get the sense that anything is possible.
On Friday evening we welcomed local Primary Schools to the Chapel for the annual Festival of Carols and what a super occasion it was. Every seat was taken as children from all four schools sang carols and shared readings to celebrate the Christmas story. As we now look to the final three days of the term, we will visit Chapel once again to enjoy our school Carol Service before donning the Christmas jumpers and Rudolph antlers for the end of term Christmas lunch and parties. It promises to be the perfect way to end 2016 at Blundell’s Prep.
Mon 12th Dec 2016, 08:00
Chatting to one parent this week about the Blog, it was noted that it has been a while since I have offered any sort of reward for answering a question or showing a particular interest in the subject matter being discussed. It got me thinking as to the nature of motivation through recognition and reward, as this forms such an integral part of the children’s daily lives at school and at home. What motivates children to do well, to engage with school, to make good decisions at crucial times, and to be, as we would all wish them to be, the best people that they can? Merits and House Points certainly play their part, as do stickers and, in the case of our lovely Learning Success Department, the promise of a ‘Lucky Dip’ prize for working hard. These physical rewards, plucked from a sea of shredded paper, deliver levels of motivation that many parents can only dream of when trying to cajole their children to empty the dishwasher or make their beds. Bribery (the acceptable kind) can be extremely effective, and we have all used it to good effect in trying to motivate our own children. At this time of year some parents may resort to the “Father Christmas won’t bring you any presents if you don’t (insert task here), will he?” but only in times of utter desperation you understand and even then it can only work for so long. If the motivation for reward is based around the idea of “what is in it for me?” then there is a limit to how effective this will be in the long run so we must consider how we show children the value in doing good things without the promise of a prize at the end, after all, the stickers will eventually stop and what happens then? So demonstrating how our deeds can deliver a different form of reward is extremely important and this has been discussed over recent weeks with our focus on Kindness and Tolerance, brilliantly supported by our Senior School Monitors just over a week ago in our school assembly. We spend a lot of time helping children to better understand how they can get a sense of satisfaction through doing good things and this is central to our school’s motto, as seen in the way that children think it’s cool to try hard and to be successful. It’s not always easy, and I’d be deluded if I didn’t recognise that at times things do go wrong, but we all have a part to play in guiding and supporting the children in their education.
I was thinking about this very theme when I stumbled across an article in this week’s Telegraph which made me think and, if I am honest, chuckle a little bit. Mothers and fathers of the pupils at Greasley Beauvale Primary School in Nottinghamshire, are marked from A to D based on their involvement with their children’s education. According to the Head it has raised attainment across the school and this was confirmed and heralded as ‘inspirational’ by Chief Ofsted Inspector, Sir Michael Wilshaw. I do have sympathy with the school’s Head who clearly felt that her parent body were not providing crucial support to their children when they needed it the most, but I also feel for those parents who are scrutinised and judged by the school when those making the judgements are unlikely to be in possession of all of the facts. It’s an interesting debate and does rather beg the question – what motivates us all to do the best that we can, be it at work or in supporting our children? Just this week I have encouraged my History classes to complete some self-assessment and give themselves a grade for the term based on how much effort they have put in to their studies, so I will do the same for those who are reading this blog – which grade would you give yourself?
- A grade – The actively-involved, ‘go above and beyond’, highly-supportive parent – can be a bit demanding in a negative way
- B grade – Involved: these parents attend parents' evenings, work effectively with the school and understand its work
- C grade – Do little to support their child’s learning and very little to support the school but will attend events occasionally
- D grade – Does nothing to support their child’s learning or the school; is rarely in school
I think that your answer to this question is probably best kept private but in recognition of the motivating power of reward, I will be offering prizes to those who can answer this rather less controversial, Christmas at Blundell’s Prep related question – how many Christmas production performances will take place at BPS this festive season?
Christmas is in full swing at school and it is great fun for all involved. We have enjoyed fantastic nativities from Year 2, Year 1 and our Kindergarten children over the last week or so as can be seen in these super photos. In the week to come we have our Prep School performances and the much anticipated, Nursery nativity to look forward to. Junior House matches were hotly contested on Monday with Raleigh victorious in the Hockey and Drake in the rugby. Our Year 2 children had a great time making their Rainbow Salads in the Food Tech room and our Nursery children visited Pennywell Farm to enjoy a very special nativity performance. There continues to be a huge amount going on and with only a week and half left until the end of the term, there is even more to come.
Mon 5th Dec 2016, 08:00
This week’s blog entry is from Jo Jeffrey, the school's new Director of Marketing and Communications.
The Head Master has kindly offered me the opportunity to write the Prep School blog this week, and so I thought I would share my initial impressions of the school and a little of my life as the first ever Director of Marketing and Communications at Blundell’s.
This term has been about getting to know the school – the staff, ways of working, parents and most importantly our pupils past and present. I have attended parent coffee mornings, staff briefings, cheered on the touchlines and chatted to pupils in the playground, all in a bid to understand what makes Blundell's the school it is.
I have been blown away! What I have discovered is a school full of engaged and highly motivated students who are offered a wealth of experience and opportunity, teachers who have the utmost dedication to their pupils, and an overwhelming sense of community. Now I am privy to this, what most excites me is the opportunity to share more of this with the outside world.
There are over 2000 independent schools in the UK and over 15 in Devon all competing to attract the trust of parents and guardians seeking the best education and environment for their children. Marketing and how we communicate to our parents and the wider community has an essential role to play in the pursuit of educational excellence and enhancing Blundell’s reputation in the UK and beyond. Great marketing is about presenting our school in a way that allows parents and pupils to make an informed choice and, equally important, reinforces their decision and builds confidence at every point along the school journey. It’s not enough to have a lovely logo and a motto, though these are significant; it is how we behave, what we achieve, what we are known for. My role is about telling our story, sharing what an outstanding school this is and keeping our messages simple. Marketing and communication can achieve great things when they are underpinned and supported by as many people as possible: Governors, teachers, non-teaching staff, pupils and parents.
I see a major part of my role building closer alignment between the Prep School and the Senior School, indeed my position at Blundell’s is the first role to operate across both schools. I am working hard to strike a balance between bringing the schools closer together whether this be through logos or opportunities for the pupils, whilst also recognising the individual strengths, qualities and identity of each school.
One of my first tasks has been to commission a new photographer to produce a portfolio of images that can be used to reinvigorate the website and provide inspiring content for a new marketing campaign. Photography is a powerful tool, and the adage ‘a picture speaks a thousand words’ is never more apt. Photographs tells us what is important, they become part of our legacy and have the power to move us. I hope that by sharing with you some of the photographs that were taken this week you will agree that these images really capture the essence of what it is to be a pupil at Blundell’s whether in a child’s moment of discovery or seizing an opportunity.
As the term and academic year progresses, I shall continue my quest to meet as many parents as possible. I am really keen to listen and learn from you as l strive to improve our marketing and communication. If you would like to contact me with suggestions, please send an email to email@example.com or drop in to see me in the Bursary Office. I would love to hear your views.
Mon 28th Nov 2016, 08:00
On Saturday morning a parent commented “you know, you have a great team here” and they were absolutely spot on. You may be thinking that their decision to make this remark whilst enjoying the Under 9 Rugby Festival on a chilly but bright Saturday morning was focused solely on the children who were playing with an extraordinary level of commitment but that was not the case. They were also making reference to the team of adults who had helped to put the event together and make it such a success. I have often commented on the strength of the team that we have here at Blundell’s Prep and it has been a great privilege for me as Head Master to be part in that team’s development over the last five and a bit years. When you take a step back and look at what goes in to something as apparently straight forward as an Under 9 Hockey and Rugby Festival, then you notice the contribution made by the grounds staff to prepare the pitches, flag them, get the marquee ready and then come in on Saturday afternoon to tidy it all away. As you sip a hot cup of coffee or enjoy a delicious scone (yes, I had one at 10am) you realise that Barbara and her team were also playing a crucial role - as one parent told me, it was the six cups of tea that were helping her to stay warm and offer such vocal support to our victorious Under 9 hockey team! I would suggest that we rival any school in the region with the quality of our Games teaching staff and to see them out in force on Saturday, umpiring, refereeing, organising, welcoming and supporting the children was a very proud moment for me as the Head of the school. On top of that, our children also showed just how important it is for them to play as a team. Our two under 9 Hockey teams played very well with the ‘Black Team’ which included a large number of Year 3 girls, managing to win one game and draw another against some tough opposition. Our ‘Purple Team’ got stronger and stronger as the tournament progressed and made their way through to the final where they faced Exeter School who had not conceded a goal during the group stages. Unperturbed, our girls rallied and defended their hearts out before capitalising on an opening, with Jemima scoring the decisive goal to win 1-0 and lift the trophy. Our Under 9 boys played with incredible heart and performed very well in all of their matches, although in the Festival format no scores are kept and there are no winners (that’s Blog material right there, but not on this occasion!) so no mention was made of them being undefeated, scoring lots of tries and conceding very few…until now of course. So it was a weekend in which the Blundell’s team came together, as it often does, to provide the children, and their parents, with an experience to celebrate and to remember. My thanks to them all.
Judging by the volume of cakes that were brought in to school to be sold as part of our Children in Need fund-raising, there were a team of bakers working overtime on Thursday evening! Home clothes and tasty treats were the order of the day as the Prep school came together to support this fantastic event. Children in the Pre-Prep also gave generously as they decorated their own Pudsey Bears with coins – we will find out how much was raised later this week but it should be a healthy sum.
We stick with the theme of charity at the start of this new week as we are visited by Steve Nash in his role as a Blood Bikes motorcycle rider. Steve takes vital blood and breast milk supplies to hospitals across the region and he will be bringing his motorbike in to the Prep and the Pre-Prep assemblies to help the children understand the importance of this work. I imagine that the children will be very excited to see him. Monday will also see us take another step towards the festive season when the school Christmas trees are delivered. The children in Year 3 will be helping me to decorate the tree in the Prep School Reception which is always entertaining and an event that the children enjoy greatly. Later in the week our Year 2 children will perform the first of six different Christmas productions being put on over the remainder of term so we look forward to welcoming lots of guests to the school. The mince pies will be ready and waiting!
Mon 21st Nov 2016, 08:10
I am sure that 2016 will go down as a year in which the seemingly impossible became possible, after all it was the year in which Leicester City won the Premier League and who would have ever thought that such a thing could happen? Of perhaps slightly more significance was the Brexit Referendum vote and then (as events of significant magnitude do tend to come in threes) we had the victory for Donald Trump in the US elections. It has been the most peculiar of years and the result across the pond did nothing to detract from that. We still have some 7 weeks until the end of the year so who knows what might be just around the corner. The next thing you know, Ed Balls will win Strictly Come Dancing but perhaps that is stretching things a little too far.
I wonder what the soldiers of the First World War, those who fought at The Battle of the Somme 100 years ago, would have thought of the world today. Would they have approved of the direction in which Britain has been taken, moving further away from a Europe that they gave their lives to protect? As our school came together this week to commemorate the sacrifices made by service men and women, my mind did turn to this very thought. On Friday, the Prep School came together for our Remembrance Service and the Prefects spoken beautifully to give voice to those who fought in The Great War. We heard of the excitement when war broke out, the desire to sign up and the stark contrast as the reality and horror of trench warfare became apparent. It was a very moving tribute and one that was echoed at the Senior School as the Blundell’s community gathered at the school’s war memorial to honour those who fell. Our children take a very strong interest in the past and it is vital that we help them to continue to remember the sacrifices made by so many.
I think that I have to concede that the run up to Christmas has now begun at BPS. The initial ‘warm-up’ came with the children designing Christmas cards, ready to be sent to family and friends over the next few weeks, and then the annual Head Master’s Christmas Card Competition with the winners being selected to be the school’s official card. I can officially announce here on the Blog that this year’s winners are Florence Chapman in Year 6 and Leo Jenkins in Year 2. Both designs will go to print next week and there are some Christmas themed prizes for all who took the time to enter. As you come in to the Prep School Reception, you will see all of the entrants in a display so please do pop in to take a look. Why not join us for the Award’s assembly on Friday and enjoy a cup of coffee and a mince pie?
Speaking of mince pies (!) I was delighted to welcome so many people to our annual FoBP Christmas Market on Saturday, an event that marks the end of the warm-up to the festive season and the definitive ‘starting whistle’ as Father Christmas was in attendance along with his elfin helpers and gifts aplenty. This year, each form took on more of a role and the teachers were wonderfully supportive as they came up with all manner of different games in order to entice the children to spend their pennies, be it flicking coins in to pots of sweets or trying to douse the candle flames armed only with a small plastic water pistol. Not that I am bragging you understand but I did manage to extinguish five flames only for Mr Morris to disqualify one on account of me getting too close. I was subsequently banned from future attempts! Our FoBP Committee worked tirelessly once again to bring this super event together and I am indebted to them all.
As you might imagine, excitement levels at the Prep School are on the rise as Christmas approaches but the event that created the greatest excitement his week was not related to yuletide at all. It was time for our Year 2 children to travel to St. Peter’s in order to play against their hosts, Mount Kelly and Exeter Cathedral in the U7’s Rugby and Hockey Quadrangular festival. As always, the bus journey and the promise of ‘match tea’ were major contributors to the excitement but the matches themselves were hotly contested and everyone had a jolly lovely time.
This week is National Anti-Bullying Week and we will be recognising this in the Prep School through assemblies and a focus on our Kindness and Tolerance Charter which the children created last year. Later in the week, our musicians will be performing at the 2nd Tea Time Concerts of the term and then on Friday we are holding our first Nursery Café event of the year so there is a great deal going on once again. Do join us if you can.
Mon 14th November 2016, 12:35
For this week’s Blog, I asked our Nursery teachers, Mrs Spencer and Mrs Thornton to share some of their observations from the first half of this Autumn Term. As you will read, our Nursery is a very happy and vibrant place to be with no two days ever the same...
When Mr Southgate asked the Nursery to contribute something to his weekly blog we thought about all the things that happen over the course of a year in the Nursery classrooms and how we could possibly squeeze it all into just a few paragraphs. Teaching in the Early Years means we quite often get comments of “Oh I could never do what you do, I don’t have the patience”, or “Isn’t it boring teaching the little ones?” or most annoying “you just play all day don’t you?”.
So, we thought about why we do it, why we love it so much and why learning through play is so important. Like any area of teaching there is an enormous amount of work involved and the job certainly doesn’t finish when the school day ends. There can be the challenge of crying and very upset children at the beginning of the year, on occasion there has been screaming, kicking and even biting once (definitely not here at Blundell’s though!) The day can often involve many changes of clothes (mostly the children but sometimes us!) due to sickness, toileting accidents or just a head to toe painting experience! We have to be upbeat and on the go at all times so when home time comes, getting to sleep is never a problem!
Despite these challenges we love teaching Nursery aged children. There is a real sense of joy when we connect with a young child which is incredibly rewarding. There is such excitement when a child makes a discovery for the first time that it makes every time we get a mouthful of an uncovered sneeze worth it. We love the way they approach every activity with their entire body. Or how their faces light up when they solve a problem or understand a new concept. Or simply the way they grab our hand when walking to the playground. As Nursery teachers we feel a real sense of pride helping these little people learn to navigate their world; teaching them how to be independent human beings and enthusiastic learners.
Learning through play is how young children become enthusiastic learners. Here in the Nursery classes we try to take our learning out and about as much as possible and with the wonderful facilities and grounds around the prep school we are spoilt for choice.
Watching young minds open up to the experiences set before them is a thing of wonder that as Nursery teachers we get to experience on a daily basis. Here’s to the challenges and the wonder!
What’s been happening in Nursery One?
It has been a very busy first half of term for the Nursery One children, with so many things to do and places to explore. All the children settled well, skipping into class with barely a backward glance at slightly bewildered parents, left wondering what to do with the rest of their day.
The children soon got to grips with “Mrs Spencer’s Rules” such as Only Grown Ups Open Door and Gates, You Never Ever In Your Life Eat Berries Unless Your Mummy Says You Can and, most importantly Put The Lids Back On The Felt Tip Pens!
The children have been learning about their “Special Sounds”, known further up the school as Phonics, and mastering number recognition starting at the very beginning with 1, 2, 3. We are all very familiar with the song Nick Nack Paddy Wack now. They have also gone from being frustrated at their inability to pedal to zooming at speed around the playground on various tractors and tricycles. They have stood stock still, looking me dubiously up and down as I diligently follow all the instructions on the Sticky Kids CD to joining in with gusto – stretching up tall, bending down small, galloping and winding the bobbin up with the best of ‘em.
We have covered many miles on our numerous Autumn walks in the school grounds – Seeing Walks... “Look, rabbit pooh!” Hearing Walks... “Look, rabbit pooh!” Texture Walks... “Look, rabbit pooh!” And our pumpkin hunt...yes, you guessed it, “Look, rabbit pooh!” We have never seen an actual rabbit but plenty of evidence that they run amuck in the grounds when the school is quiet.
We have been talking about our favourite things and it is fair to say that one of the Nursery One children has a preference for, bordering on obsession with, the story of The Three Little Pigs. We have re-enacted this story almost daily with excited squeals coming from the Nursery playground as the first little pig’s house of straw (the play house) is blown down, with much huffing and puffing, followed by the house of sticks (the tree sculpture) until the house made of bricks (the plastic castle) stands firm. Then with much ‘ham’ acting the big bad wolf slips down the slide into the pot of boiling water – watched gleefully by the safe little pigs who all live happily ever after. We will soon be reading Little Red Riding Hood and I would not be surprised to be told that I have started muttering “big bad wolf, big bad wolf” in my sleep.
As the next half of term begins we will start rehearsals for our Nativity play. The enthusiasm with which my little band of Nursery One children approaches everything they encounter should hold us in good stead for a great performance – don’t miss it!
During the first half term of this academic year the children in Nursery Two have been out and about on listening walks, number hunts, acting out the three Billy Goats Gruff story on the bridge by the pond, playing parachute games and collecting leaves as well as autumnal flora and fauna and listening to stories and songs in the Hub.
Through our topics covering the theme ‘All About Me’ the children have experienced many new concepts and activities. As we explored the human body and our senses the children were able to develop their knowledge of body parts, healthy living and how we use our senses to explore the world around us. Each week the children help to contribute to a mind map of ideas that we incorporate into our planning and as a result take ownership of some of their own learning.
We made life size pictures of our bodies. We found out who was the tallest, we labelled each body part and discussed how we use our senses in many different ways to help us navigate our world.
The finale of our Senses topic was to make gingerbread men. We could use all of our senses for this activity - smelling the ginger, touching the mixture and dough, seeing it change as it cooked, listening to instructions and of course, tasting the finished result. However, the children were amazed to find that when we went to get the large gingerbread man out of the oven he had disappeared - just like the story he had run away! After following a series of clues that took us around the Pre-Prep we finally found him hiding back in the classroom where we were quick to catch him and gobble him up!
Cookery is a great way for young children to experience many different ideas and concepts as well as put them into practise. When we make something at school the children are learning to:
- listen to and follow instructions
- take turns
- think about hygiene and safety
- use mathematical language and skills when measuring and combining ingredients
- use new vocabulary
- develop reading skills
- experience science in action (yeast, baking powder)
- learn about healthy food choices
- develop creativity and build confidence
The children also made a lot of different dishes during our topic on Food. From bread and soup to pizza and jam tarts, and we hope to incorporate more cooking into our curriculum as the year progresses. So, as we move into the next half of term there are many more exciting topics and activities planned and of course every Nursery child’s rite of passage – the Nativity play! We will be working hard on learning the songs and I know that there will be a few little acting super stars among the group which should make for a great performance.
Mon 7th Nov 2016, 08:00
I am just about getting used to this change in format for the Blog and judging by the feedback that I have had from the regular readers, the change has been a positive one. So far this term we have heard about the first impressions of the school from our new Deputy Head, we have had words of wisdom from our Pre-Prep Head of English and just last week we learnt more about how the outdoors can have a profound impact on learning from our OL team. After half term we will be hearing from our Nursery teachers, both of whom are new in post and keen to share all that they have experienced thus far, and I have also asked our Director of Marketing and Communications to share her thoughts on all that is on offer here at Blundell’s. Although at first I was a little reluctant to relinquish my weekly missives, it has reinforced the importance of something that we all know to be true - the need for all organisations to look at things afresh. Woe betide the school that starts to think that it has education all figured out, especially as we are living in a world where change is happening at break neck speed. I have often written about the need to support the children in becoming critical thinkers in their lives as students but the same applies to us as educationalists. To be able, and willing, to step back and objectively analyse what the children need before aligning this with what we offer is a continuous process and one that we are conscious of at all times. In fact, not a week goes by without us asking ourselves, “That works well but could we do it even better?”
Already this term we have seen this in action; daily as our teachers complete post lesson reviews in order to inform their planning of the next lesson, weekly as we look to find the appropriate and most effective balance between the academic, artistic and physical elements within our curriculum, and then termly as we consider school events, staff training, parent meetings and the many social events that bring warmth and excitement to the school community. We intend to change the format of the Prep School Welcome meetings next year, bringing them earlier in the term and providing more opportunities for new parents to quickly become acquainted with the daily workings of the school. We are introducing more reading support groups, putting a framework in place for the expansion of 1:1 music lessons within our Pre-Prep and already putting plans in place to adjust the timetable for the 2016/17 academic year so that it better supports our academic objectives. As an American businessman (no, not him!) once said, ‘We cannot become what we want by remaining what we are’ and those words certainly resonate with us here at Blundell’s Prep.
On the theme of change, this week we launched the Prep School Portal in order to give parents easier access to information on their children and we hope that this will be a very positive development. Our Prep School children received their first set of Efforts and Attainment Grades or EAGS as they are known which have been improved this year by Academic Leader, Mr Moore to include more detailed feedback on pupil progress. These have been made available through the portal and are another example of our drive towards improving the way that we share information.
Several weeks ago I challenged the children to come up with a new way to promote the core values within our School or ‘The Blundell’s Way’ as it is known, and I am delighted to say that I have received a huge number of entries in the form of posters to adorn the corridors and classrooms. Our values may not change but what they mean to the children in their day to day lives may well be different, and that is something that we are keen to understand and support.
One of the areas of school life that has undergone significant change over the last two years is the use of the outdoors and this week we have seen drama lessons taking place outside, a photography workshop with Year 2 and a visit to our replica trench for Year 6. During this coming week our Year 3 children have their workshop to look forward to on Wednesday and Year 6 will be heading to Exeter race course for some equine related Maths. Let’s hope that the wonderful weather enjoyed of late does not change!
We break up for half term in just three days and I am sure that many families are looking forward to it. The staff and the children have worked very hard and deserve a rest – that is something that will never change!
Mon 17th Oct 2016, 09:05
This week I have asked members of our Outdoor Learning Team to share their thoughts on why the outdoors plays such a crucial role in a child’s education. My thanks to Miss Howlett, Mrs Shelbourne and Mrs Aldridge for putting together such a thought-provoking piece. ADS
Wellington boots on, excited and ready to venture outside; into the woods, down to the Hub or out across the fields, the children at Blundell’s Prep and Pre-Prep are often seen heading out, but why? What for? What is the true value of ‘Learning Outside the Classroom’?
When Mr Southgate asked us to write this blog we decided to do our research and so we start with a statistic that we found in the most highbrow of papers on education theory - the free monthly Tesco Magazine! For any of you seeking a bargain in last month’s edition you may have seen the feature on getting outdoors and the alarming claim that 3 out of 4 children in the UK spend less time outside than prison inmates. As we look out over the school grounds filled with children playing, we think it is safe to say that luckily the children here at Blundell’s defy this statistic but it is there and it is real. Our children are not afraid of a bit of dirt and have all learnt that there is no such thing as bad weather (just inappropriate clothing) but this is clearly not the trend nationally and it is no surprise therefore that there is such a national drive to get children outside in their spare time and when in school.
Outdoor learning within the Prep and Pre-Prep continues to grow and teaching staff are constantly looking for ways of taking the children’s learning outside. We are lucky enough to have an amazing site here which is truly inspirational and makes an important contribution to building a child’s store of knowledge based on their own enquiry but often as teachers we are asked why outdoor learning is important.
Our objectives as teachers remain the same, whether the children are learning inside or out, we are ready to scaffold learning according to the outcomes that we hope to achieve. What is different, perhaps, is that lessons become naturally less teacher-led and will inherently incorporate more movement, more sensory stimulation, more co-operation and discussion. In Mr Southgate’s last blog he spoke of outlets for stress and need to support children in developing strategies to help them to effectively manage these difficulties. Learning Outside the Classroom is not the complete answer but there is something about being outside the confines of the classroom walls that changes the dynamics of a group of children; improving young people’s understanding, skills, values, personal and social development and can act as a vehicle to develop young people’s capacity and motivation to learn. The outdoor classroom provides them with endless opportunities to make mistakes and learn from them, to fall and laugh at themselves, to work with others and listen and ask for help when they don’t get things right. There is nothing better than watching shy children come into their own, budding scientists blossom, mathematicians begin to apply their understanding and reluctant writers itching to put pen to paper to describe the monster who appeared from the pond or to share instructions on how to light their own fire. Learning outside the classroom promotes independence, resilience and confidence and we defy anyone to argue the creativity, curiosity and problem solving opportunities that it can promote.
In the Pre-Prep this term, children have been out and about more than ever; phonics being taught on washing lines, Maths down in the wooded hollow and worm charming across the fields, and the results can clearly be felt when the children return to the classroom to share their experiences and what they have learned.
On a long lasting note, we hope that by moving the classroom outdoors we will help to promote a love and an appreciation of the environment and a greater understanding of what a ‘healthy lifestyle’ involves and the positive impact it can have. All the children from our youngest in the Pre-Prep through to Year Six experience camp fire cooking and are taught how to keep themselves safe near the fire. This term the children have enjoyed a variety of different activities linked to learning objectives in the National Curriculum. Year Three children have investigated where and how different rocks are used in the built environment and have discovered what soil is made of looking closely at different samples. They will be spending a morning in the woods. Year Four have investigated minibeasts and identified trees around the site. Year Five have enjoyed making colours using natural resources and carved pumpkins before making and enjoying pumpkin soup. Year Six have enjoyed an afternoon at Killerton making apple juice and sketching at the canal.
As the children grow up to become the next farmers, property developers, politicians, consumers, their understanding will have a significant impact on all of us. It is vital that they understand green issues and experience them for themselves. Out of classroom learning enables children to learn, first hand, that healthy living is more than simply playing sport and eating their five a day. Taking a walk, discovering food grown locally and cooking it, running through the woods, working together to build a den (whatever the weather) - it all encourages a healthy lifestyle.
We shall leave you with a quote from the man himself, Mr Bear Grylls. “Every child has the right to adventure. Nature is the world’s best adventure playground and it’s open to all. [Children] should be able to enjoy that freedom and develop a spirit of optimism, practicality and hope for the future.”
Mon 10th Oct 2016, 08:10
I face a number of challenges in my role as Head Master of Blundell’s Prep but few of those challenges are as daunting as the prospect of reading a bedtime story to a hall full of 4 to 7 year olds who have just enjoyed hot chocolate and a cookie! The perfect way to end a busy week? Absolutely! On Friday evening our Pre-Prep children returned to school with pyjamas, sleeping bags, pillows and teddies for the annual ‘Book at Bedtime’. As Mrs Nash wrote last week, we want to instil a love of reading from a young age and this lovely event helps to do just that. As you can see in these photos, the whole day was a success, starting with children coming to school dressed as their favourite character from a book and then a visit from local children’s author, Amy Sparkes. My thanks to Mrs Nash and all of the Pre-Prep teachers for their hard work throughout the day.
Earlier this week I spent a couple of days in London as I was attending the annual IAPS Conference, which this year had ‘Leading Change’ as its central theme. Over the two days we heard from a variety of speakers, some of whom work within education and others who drew on the fields of science, the military and the world of sports journalism to share their insights and to look to the future. We heard from former MP for Maidstone and Strictly Come Dancing star, the Rt. Hon. Ann Widdecombe and she pulled no punches in her observations on recent events within the murky world of politics. In amongst the many speakers, the seminars on Early Years Education, Safeguarding updates and the latest legislation on ‘Keeping Children Safe in Education’, I had the chance to listen to a fascinating talk from the founder of the charity, The Self-Esteem Team’, and former advisor to the government on child mental health issues, Natasha Devon MBE. She is a controversial figure, not least because her appointment as the Department for Educations Mental Health Tsar lasted only 9 months. She was very outspoken in her distress at the narrow, testing dominated educational system which saw little value in the creative arts or sport but which was causing young people to suffer significant mental health issues at an ever younger age. The figures speak for themselves. In the 1960s the average onset age for depression was 45, today it is 14, and with a reduction in funding for mental health services to the tune of £85 million over the last 5 years, it is little wonder that schools are having to deal with this ever growing issue. What can we do about it, aside from championing increased funding for CAMHS? The answer is that in our schools, those which are generally free from the meddling powers in Westminster, we already do a great deal. There are countless ‘outlets for stress’, in fact creative arts and sport are part of every day, and testing, although part of the working week, does not dominate the curriculum, rather it helps to shape it for the benefit of the children. PSHEE, discussion and critical thinking are all vital in giving children an opportunity to talk, to share their feelings, to feel safe and to have a mechanism through which they can learn to effectively manage the stresses that living at a time of exponential change will inevitably create. Do we get it right all of the time? Absolutely not, and I would be the first to admit that we need to do more. The messages that we give to boys and girls are a crucial part of that, reflected through societies gender stereotyping but also in the way that we as parents and educators communicate with our children. At the age of 7, children start to understand their place in the world, they become aware of social hierarchy and this causes friction, so we must be mindful of this as we look to provide the children with positive messages. Perhaps the most pointed comment that Ms Devon made was to parents who find themselves dealing with their own child’s mental health issues. Her advice, “Listen without judgement then push to the next tier – you can’t fix it.” A chilling reality but one that is faced by an ever increasing number of parents who are crying out for help.
People like Natasha Devon who work tirelessly for children were very much on my mind during Tuesday afternoon as I did a bit of celebrity spotting from the QEII Conference Centre which happens to be right next door to the magnificent Westminster Abbey. The occasion that brought everyone together was the memorial for the late, great Sir Terry Wogan, a man whose voice I still miss hearing on the radio and who was held in such high regard by the British public, as seen by the throngs of people who flocked to the abbey to pay their respects and to celebrate his remarkable life. Perhaps his greatest legacy is the £800 million raised for Children in Need since 1980 and the impact that this has had on countless children across the world and later this term we will do our bit to help with various fund-raising events. On the theme of fund-raising, I learnt this week that former Prep School pupil, Joshua Withey has been short-listed for the Outstanding Young Person Award as part of the Association of Air Ambulances Awards of Excellence. His efforts during last year’s Blundell’s Adventure, Leadership and Service Award raised vital funds for the service and in November he will attend the awards ceremony in London along with other nominees from across the country. We send Joshua our congratulations on this remarkable achievement.
One sure fire way to help children relieve stress and develop their emotional literacy is to spend time outside and this week we have seen Years 4 and 5 heading to The Hub and to the woods for their Outdoor Learning Workshops. Judging by the big smiles that greeted me on their return, I think they had a great time. As we move in to Week 6, Year 3 will be exploring Tiverton, Year 6 will be heading to an orchard and then on Friday it will be time for the much loved Movie night which just happens to coincide with National Smile Day. Sounds like the perfect way to end the week.
Mon 3rd October 2016, 08:30
With the much loved ‘Book at Bedtime’ event taking place in our Pre-Prep at the end of the coming week, I have invited our Pre-Prep English Co-ordinator, Mrs Nash to share her thoughts on engendering a passion for books. ADS
Excitement is mounting in the Pre-Prep as Book Day is rapidly approaching. The highlight of Book Day, for many children and staff, is “Book at Bedtime.” For those of you who are unfamiliar with this event, it is an occasion when the children return to school in the evening in their pyjamas, clutching their Teddy bears, pillows and sleeping bags. They snuggle together with their friends whilst staff read bedtime stories to them by candlelight. Halfway through the evening, they have cookies and hot chocolate before settling down for the last few stories. It is a magical evening for all involved and every year, it reinforces to the teachers present, how much children love being read to. They sit with their eyes glued to the pictures whilst listening avidly as the stories unfold.
As leader for English in the Pre-Prep, I am passionate about instilling a love of reading in children and cannot emphasise enough how important it is for parents to develop this love at home, as well. Many studies have shown that reading for pleasure is essential for a pupil’s success in later life. It develops a child’s confidence, independence, vocabulary, communication skills and imagination. Children should develop strong reading habits at home by reading regularly. To promote a love of books, it is important to read stories to your children every evening before they go to bed. It is a wonderfully special time to enjoy together before falling off to sleep. You can even read some of your own childhood favourites to demonstrate that you enjoy books too. During the holidays, it is extremely worthwhile to visit the local libraries and bookshops; there are often stimulating reading activities available to reinforce the idea that reading is fun.
Don’t forget the Blundell’s Holiday Reading Challenge too. The children love to receive their certificates and star awards when they return to school after the holidays and at the end of last week we gave out lots of awards for those children who have been very busy with their reading. A passion for reading certainly exists at Blundell’s Prep.
Mon 26th Sept 2016, 09:20
It’s not every day that two Spitfires fly over the school, giving all of the children and staff their own private air show, but on Thursday afternoon we were given a wonderful treat. It marked the 76th anniversary of the Battle of Britain and in glorious sunshine we were treated to the unmistakeable sound of the Rolls Royce Merlin engine as the two planes did several fly overs and even a barrel roll, much to the delight of the cheering children. These moments are very special and likely to become all the more so with the passing of every year. A huge thank you to pilot, Matt for his kindness – not a bad job that!
Now it is about this time of year that I do my annual missive on table manners (or so I was reminded by one of our regular readers) so you may be pleased to hear that I am not going to do that this year. Not because the children have returned after the summer break with impeccable table etiquette as that is sadly not the case, but because I really don’t want to repeat myself, rather I would ask that all parents join us in helping the children to understand how to eat with a knife and fork, sit at a table, etc. You are very welcome to read my previous comments on this very topic in the blog archive, should you so wish, but suffice to say that this is going to be a hot topic this coming week. Thanks for your help.
This has been a super week at school with the usual variety of activities. As well as spitfires, we also had sketching trips to the canal (there are some beautiful photos in the gallery), a harp demo (if your child has come home asking for a harp, I am very sorry, but it does make a wonderful sound) and a super Harvest Service delivered by our fruit and vegetable themed, Year 2 children. Parents joined us for our Friday Harvest assembly / Prize Giving and we heard from Ruth Morley from CHAT who was keen to thank the school for the huge amount of food and other items which have been donated this week. Some children received their first merit badges, others were recognised for swimming, running, reading and the wonderful charity work that our children are always so keen to be involved in. Fixtures have also started and there was success for rugby and hockey teams this week with our Under 10 and U11 boys rugby teams performing well at the Millfield and Port Regis Festivals. As we look to next week we have our fingers crossed that the fine weather continues as our Year 5 children will be heading out for their Outdoor Learning morning and then next weekend our choir will be in action, singing in Tiverton to support the Devon Air Ambulance Fun Day.
The final thing that I will mention this week is our Open Afternoon which took place on Saturday. As always, the BPS community were hugely supportive of the school and I was overwhelmed by the number of children who were not just willing, but actually excited, to give up their Saturday afternoon to show case all that our school has to offer. Whether the children were engaged in science, computing, music, sport, or the cooking of delicious chocolate coated Afghan biscuits, the school was alive with colour and energy, supported as enthusiastically as ever by the teachers. We welcomed lots of guests and they were well looked after by our Year 6 guides who were the very essence of charming. My thanks to pupils, parents and teachers for all of their efforts in making Saturday afternoon such a success.
Mon 19th Sept 2016, 08:05
This week, I have invited our new Deputy Head, Mr Howkins, to share his initial thoughts on Blundell’s Prep. I know that he has felt a warmth of welcome from the Blundell’s community so my thanks to everyone for that. ADS
In his Blog last week, Mr Southgate remarked on a possible issue with information overload for the new staff. Indeed, there was plenty of information, policies and procedures to get acquainted with however, there was also plenty of other matters for us “newbies” to experience. The kindness, support and enthusiasm shown to us on our first day at Blundell's has made us feel at ease and welcome straight away. Everyone - the staff, the children and parents - made us feel part of this warm and friendly family school. The message throughout the week has been that we want you to enjoy it, to become part of our community and to feel like you have something to offer. Everyone has been extremely supportive and friendly, willing to help and answer any questions, and they have made our start at Blundell’s a truly easy, happy and wonderful one.
My first impression as I walked the corridors of the school this week as Deputy Head was this is a school that cares. At Blundell’s it’s not just about producing academics or sports stars, musicians or actors and actresses, but a school which nurtures each individual, catering for each child’s needs and not just because it says so in a policy somewhere. The easiest thing for any school to do is follow policies and teach to the curriculum come what may. The best schools, in my view, are those that manage the teaching but also look closely at the needs of the individual child, which may be their education, pastoral care or social needs. My belief is that Blundell’s does this with flying colours.
I have been truly impressed with the politeness and good manners of the children. From first thing in the morning with a “Good Morning, Sir”, to the handshake at the end of the day on the gate, their courtesy and respect has been very evident. The children's confidence and ability to engage in conversation has also been very impressive.
They say that an army marches on its stomach indicating that food is vital to the smooth running of any establishment. Those who know me well know I am a bit of a fussy eater. I’m not hot on veg although I do like a salad occasionally! I can however, honestly say I have had no such issues here at Blundell’s. The food provided is splendid. Each meal has been tasty and fresh, healthy and well presented. As a parent, I understand that nothing feels better than watching your child polish off a healthy, home-cooked meal and from the empty plates in the dining room after the meal the children have certainly enjoyed what has been prepared for them. So, no need for parents to worry about the catering standards at Blundell’s.
A wise old teacher once said “Always try and win the hearts of the children and the minds of the parents.” To win the hearts and minds of people takes time and for them to feel able to put their trust in you so that, should things feel bad or go wrong, they feel able to turn to you without question and follow your lead or advice. I will always do my best and strive hard to win the hearts and minds of all those I teach and come into contact with at Blundell’s.
So there we have it, after one week, the new Deputy Head’s first impressions of my time at Blundell's. I look forward to meeting you all very soon. To all new parents, I hope my insider information highlights all that is good about Blundell’s and that your children are being taught, looked after and indeed, fed extremely well.
To those that know Blundell’s well, I hope that I have reaffirmed what you already knew about the school. Finally, to anyone who is reading this and thinking of visiting and looking around Blundell’s, take it from me, as someone who has only been here for one week, I am confident you will not be disappointed.
Mon 12th Sept 2016, 09:40
Welcome back! What a summer it has been and much of that has been down to the 2 weeks of sporting glories experienced by our athletes in Rio. I will happily admit to being Olympics obsessed, watching every event from track cycling to Taekwondo, trying to stay awake of an evening and often nodding off only to wake up to discover that Team GB had won another medal. It was a wonderful time and I defy anyone to say that they did not get hooked on at least one event. There were highlights too numerous to mention although my personal favourite was the Women’s Hockey Gold, a victory which was forged through huge skill and an enormous helping of courage. These athletes were inspirational in their efforts and are the role models that we want our children to emulate (I could include a rant on professional footballers and their propensity for dramatising injury but I’ll leave that for another week). During our first assembly on Thursday, I tested the children’s knowledge of the GB Gold medallists and they excelled, but one Olympic based trivia question that they couldn’t answer was this - who are the current Olympic Gold medal holders in the sport of...cricket? The answer is GB although what makes it all the more relevant to us here at school is that four of the winning team were Blundellians! Why not Google it as it is a fascinating story and one that shows how far the Modern Olympics has come over the last 116 years.
On Tuesday there was a first at Blundell’s. All of the teachers from Nursery to Sixth Form gathered together to discuss the school’s aims and to consider how we can all work together to strengthen what we offer every pupil at Blundell’s, be they starting with us aged 2 or getting ready to start a new chapter in their lives aged 18. After 8 weeks of holiday it was the perfect way to get the grey matter working once again (certainly for me anyway) and it was wonderful to see everyone so keen to share what they currently do as well as what they could do in the future, working more closely with colleagues across the school. Suffice to say that the strategies for developing ‘independence’ used in our Pre-Prep may be somewhat different to those experienced by our pupils entering their Houses in Year 9, at least, one would hope so! I am pretty certain that the prospect of staff training can sometimes be somewhat onerous, particularly when so much of it involves important but not always the most inspiring, compliance based topics, but I lost count of the number of colleagues who came to say how much they had enjoyed the morning. The collective ideas of 130 teachers is to be poured over during the coming weeks and I hope to share many of those ideas within the Blog over the course of the term so you absolutely MUST come back next week.
As well as lots of new children, we have also been delighted to welcome some new teachers. Mrs Thornton joins us to teach our Nursery 2 class, Miss Mahon will be teaching Maths and Games in the Prep School and Mr Howkins has joined us as our new Deputy Head. I think that there may have been an issue with information overload over the last few days but by Friday afternoon all three of our new colleagues were still smiling and enjoying getting to know everyone, especially the children who have returned in fine form and ready for the new year ahead. We also welcome Mrs Jo Jeffrey as our first whole school appointment as Director of Marketing and Communications who, you will be delighted to hear, has some ideas for ‘refreshing’ this Blog after 5 years of my weekly ramblings. It has been lovely to welcome new colleagues to the school and I am sure that all members of the Blundell’s community will make them feel very welcome indeed.
Mon 5th Sept 2016, 10:05