Head master's Blog
This blog is intended to give an insight into daily life at Blundell's Preparatory School as seen through the eyes of its Head Master.
With fortnightly updates on new initiatives, themed days and general observations, it will give current and prospective parents some idea as to what goes on behind the scenes at this thriving co-educational Prep school. Comments are always welcome and the Head Master may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Monday 30th March 2020
My blog posts have always followed a certain structure over the 9 years that I have been writing them. A fortnightly fixture in my diary which has very rarely been missed, with upbeat messages concerning all that has gone on at school alongside references to developments within the wider educational landscape. I have always tried to use it as a window in to our wonderful school and to share in some of the pride that I feel in having the privilege to be its Head Master. In truth, I have never felt such pride as I have this past two weeks.
When the decision was made to close the school, and the news was announced, it began a process that has seen a speed of change unlike anything I have experienced whilst working in education. Thankfully, we had already put the IT infrastructure in place so on Wednesday morning, we had all of the teaching staff from across Pre-Prep and Prep, joining together in our first Teams meeting. As you might imagine it took a bit of getting used to but after everyone had mastered the technology and said hello to colleagues, Dan Morris provided a demonstration of the teaching potential of our online platforms. It was a great start but there is much more to come. We are going to see the rapid development of our Home Learning programme and, if there is anything positive to come from this lockdown, it will be the understanding of how technology can impact learning. It will be fascinating to see how we emerge the other side but I imagine that our appreciation of human connections and the great outdoors will be all the greater.
During last week, we did have a number of Key Worker children in school although, quite understandably, those families who have been able to keep their children safely at home have wisely made the decision to do so. The school was a strange place to be this last week as our focus immediately shifted to keeping the children happy and learning at home whilst trying not to impose too much on the extraordinary pressures being felt by our families. My sense is that everyone got through the week but we all recognise that more sustainable plans need to be in place for next term, especially if we are not able to return to school in the weeks to come. As last week progressed, so did our plans for after Easter and I am confident that what will be in place come the start of term will be really manageable, sustainable and impactful for all of our families. What has been abundantly clear, is just how dedicated and passionate our teachers are here at Blundell’s Prep. I am hugely grateful to them all.
In amongst the stress, the sadness and the uncertainty, we at BPS have been fortunate to have our master i/c staff morale, Mr Howkins, providing daily messages from school as part of our small skeleton crew. He has the tendency to be something of a creature of habit when it comes to where he parks his car of a morning but this last week he has overcome the urge to stick to his usual space and has positioned his car in all manner of different spots, the ultimate causing some degree of consternation from our Head of Drama. At times such as these, keeping humour and personal connections going is all the more important, and Mr H has done just that. What will he think of next?
This last week has been a steep learning curve for all of us, not least when I decided that in my daily e-mail to the children I would invite them to share their favourite emojis with me. I think that my inbox nearly exploded under the weight of responses but I now have an encyclopaedic knowledge – I however, will be sticking to my usual sign off when I write to the children, the good old 😊
Take care everyone.
Sunday 8th March 2020
If you happened to be at the Prep School on Saturday afternoon you would have witnessed a scene which can only be described as a quagmire.
Children covered head to toe in mud, parents bravely wading through swamp-like conditions and willing runners battling to stay upright whilst attempting to keep trainers attached to feet. For some, even the use of copious quantities of gaffer tape was no match for the pull of the knee deep mire, and sadly a number of shoes were lost in action. The occasion was our annual whole school cross-country, The Russell, one of those infamous school events which strikes fear into the hearts of all but the most hardy of souls. In spite of this, students, parents, OBs and Prep School children came together to take part, to battle the considerable elements, and to run on this, the 140th anniversary of this legendary ordeal. It was, as it always is, a great joy to see so many people, young and old, participating in a gruelling but hugely satisfying event. At a time when studies by Public Health England show that only 17% of Primary aged children are doing the recommended amount of daily exercise, and with our country facing an obesity crisis, it was incredible to see such a powerful culture of participation in physical activity, even when conditions were somewhat challenging!
You don’t have to wade through miles of sludge to show a commitment to being healthy and active. Thankfully there are other options here at BPS, and our broad offer will shortly expand again when we open our new Dance Studio in September 2020. One of the strands within our SDP is to develop our Blundell’s Performing Arts Centre and stage 1 of that is to bring dance to Blundell’s and provide a facility for all of our children from 3 to 18 to enjoy. The redevelopment of the upper floor of our Pre-Prep building will provide that facility and I look forward to sharing visuals with you over the next week or so.
Since my last blog, all of our children have been involved in various different physical activities, some of which have been in teams, others as individuals. Our Under 11 netball team have secured qualification to the National Finals at Bryanston on the 20th March and just this last week, our U10 and U9 netball players have been successful at Queen’s and Exeter. Everyone has been in action this week, enjoying participation, competition and camaraderie, such important aspects of a healthy, physically and mentally active lifestyle. On top of that, we have seen our youngest Blundellians playing tennis at lunchtimes with our coaches, swimming on a Thursday afternoon and enjoying Scrumkids as part of our Clubs Programme. Yoga, Fencing, Judo and Ballet - there is something on offer for every child and it is always a joy to see them participating with such relentless enthusiasm, even when the weather conditions are less than favourable! As well as staying physically fit and having fun with friends, we are also embedding habits that will last a lifetime. 'Healthy body - Healthy mind' is something that we all see value in and as some of our slightly more ‘experienced’ Russell participants recover from their weekend exploits, that may well be tested to the full. Happy recovery to one and all!
Tuesday 18th February 2020
This has been a big week for us at Blundell’s. On Wednesday our new website went live and after many, many months of hard work, the end result is something very impressive. We have also launched our five year strategic plan, Blundell’s Prep 2025, and if you follow this link you will see our Ambition, Vision and Values communicated through the five key strands of ‘Roots and Wings.’
It has been an 18 month process to get to this point, although in reality, the foundation work for these plans has been gathering momentum for a great deal longer. Those of you with a long connection to the school will know that Roots and Wings has been our strapline for some time now but the time was right for us to re-explore its true meaning and purpose, and the result is something that we are all very excited by.
One of those key pillars is ‘Self-knowledge’ and having recently recognised Children’s Mental Health Week, we all understand the importance of helping children to develop awareness of their own feelings as well as ways in which they can become more emotionally resilient. One such way is to help them ‘Find their Brave’ and in a recent TES article some useful advice was suggested which I think we can all use with the young people in our lives. If asked the question, “When were you last brave?” what would come to mind? In school, we have long spoken of the growth mindset culture that we want to cultivate, and for most of the time our children are quick to overcome adversity, face their fears or take on a challenge, but even the most open-minded of human beings can sometimes falter when faced with a situation that seems over-whelming. This is why we repeat our message, in different ways and in a variety of contexts, so that children can see that being brave does not have to mean an act of super hero courage but is often a very small and individual moment, a first step but a very important one nonetheless. If you get the chance, explore the four questions with your kids and see what they say. The message is always more meaningful when it comes from school and from home.
On a similar theme, I spent last weekend on a coaching course alongside 17 other colleagues from the Prep and the Senior School. I had read quite a few articles on coaching and I had what I thought was a pretty good understanding of what the weekend would entail but the reality was more challenging than I had envisaged. It’s amazing how exposed you feel when faced with being questioned and coached in front of your peers, and on Sunday afternoon when a volunteer was needed, I took the plunge and put up my hand. That internal dialogue, egging me on but also suggesting caution, was most certainly present and I could immediately relate to the children who sit in lessons wondering what will happen if they are chosen to answer a question. Even surrounded by people who I know, who I had spent the weekend coaching alongside, I was nervous – I needed to find my brave. At that moment, I was helped by the extraordinary warmth and kindness of our trainer, the simply amazing McKenzie Cerri. Why did I put my hand up? Because I trusted McKenzie and I wanted to push myself, and if we can create that culture in all of our classrooms and for all of our children, then we will find ourselves well on the way to being the school that we are determined to be.
Wednesday 29th Jan 2020
I have been out and about this week which is a rare thing for me but also an important one. On Tuesday, I ventured up the M5 to Leamington Spa, home of the Independent Association of Preparatory Schools, in order to attend a meeting of the Education Committee.
Our role is to explore interesting, innovative and inspiring opportunities which are then disseminated to the IAPS membership, supporting our colleagues from across the association in engaging in the wider world of education.
Within that extraordinarily broad remit there are always some absolute gems to share and in this meeting that was certainly the case. We heard from mental health campaigner, Hope Virgo, who spoke with incredible passion about the work that she does in schools. Hope has visited Blundell’s Senior School over recent years and I know that her story had a profound impact on many of our students. We also discussed the on-going demise of Common Entrance, a situation that I have to say, appears to be going in only one direction. I also got to meet a remarkable lady in Dame Alison Peacock. Dame Alison is the CEO of the Chartered College of Teaching, an organisation that has, perhaps surprisingly, only been in existence for three years.
To just listen to her speak of the importance of teachers engaging in continuous professional research and dialogue was truly inspiring. I think that in our busy lives, we often spend a disproportionate amount of time thinking about what we are doing rather than why we are doing it, and Dame Alison’s message is that the great power of the teacher comes from their deep understanding of the positive impact that they can have on children’s lives. Her words certainly resonated with me as we continuously explore how to do our very best for the children here at Blundell’s.
During our meeting, we also discussed the Department for Education’s recent non-statutory ‘Character Education Framework’ View here in which they outline 6 Character Benchmarks. Having focused on academic outcomes with such single-minded obsession, this framework from the DFE is welcome news, I am sure, to parents across the land.
This short excerpt from the guidance summarises perfectly how we feel about the purposeful development of character, and is central to everything that we continue to do here at BPS. ‘Education for character is already integral to the work of excellent schools. In these schools there is no tension between a rigorous and stretching academic education on the one hand and outstanding wider personal development on the other.’ You only have to speak to our children to know that character development is high on our agenda. Whether considering ways to help others through their BALSA efforts or bringing joy to the patients at Pine Lodge, our children are exposed to endless opportunities for their characters to be challenged, supported and developed.
One article I read last week, which I thought was worth sharing View here, suggested ‘a list of 25 experiences that young people should tick off before leaving school in order to build character, which includes trying veganism and putting down their mobile phones.’ It comes as new research by The Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme, which surveyed 1,000 14 to 18 year olds, showed that 52 per cent of 14 to 18 year olds have never volunteered for their community, 51 per cent have never worked a part-time job and 20 per cent have never been for a walk or hike in the countryside. Whilst our children are a little too young to have a part-time job, many of them can say that they have volunteered and if they haven’t yet, by the time they reach 11 years of age they will have. Likewise, they have spent some considerable time in the countryside but living where we live, that is perhaps unsurprising! We all know that character education is vital, not just for the world of employment beyond school, but for life in general. It is one of the things that we do exceptionally well and yet we want to do more, as you will shortly see when I share with you our strategic vision for Blundell’s Prep 2025.