Red boat climbing frame

Head Master's Blog

Autumn Term 2019

RugbyI think that I am just about over the disappointment of last weekend. Sure, there have been moments this week when an image of the England scrum hurtling backwards at 100mph has flashed through my brain but other than that, I’ve kept my emotions in check….ish. As I sat with a group of equally devoted England rugby fans, bacon butty and coffee at the ready, I was full of hope, buoyed by the extraordinary performance against the All Blacks the weekend before and certain that this was the moment when the England team would really step up and take us back to that wonderful time in 2003 when Sir Jonny kicked the immortal drop goal. I wanted us to win. I believed that we would win. I kept that faith until about 20 minutes from time when the realisation hit that it was not going to happen. How did I react? Initially, my focus was on who was to blame. The late arrival at the ground – Eddie Jones is to blame. The penalty in minute 1 from Courtenay Lawes – it’s his fault. The collision between Maro Itoje and Kyle Sinckler – are we trying to lose? Of course, the referee, Jerome Garces was on the receiving end of some stick from me and that response was probably being mirrored across the land. Like thousands of others, I was angry, disappointed, gutted. In truth, for a period of time I was a poor loser and if the children here were making an assessment, they would tell me that my chimp was not behaving itself, and they would be entirely correct. My ability to manage my emotions was compromised and it took a little while to get back on track.

HockeyWhy do I mention this? The challenge of maintaining one’s composure during difficult moments is something that we have been working on with the children here at Blundell’s Prep for a little while now, using Professor Steve Peters’ powerful book ‘My Hidden Chimp’ as a mechanism for developing strategies which the children can use in their daily lives. I have written about self-regulation in previous blog posts but we have looked to develop this further through the introduction of a wonderful programme called ‘Girls on Board.’ This is delivered by trained teachers from our Senior School, providing an opportunity for our girls to have the freedom to talk more openly and to explore what happens on those occasions when emotions start to run high and things have a tendency to go wrong. The first session, delivered last week by our Head of School House, Mr James Rochfort, was very well received by the Year 6 girls and on Monday of this week it be time for our Year 5 girls to start the course. Our work on self-regulation is seen across the school, starting in our wonderful Nursery. On Wednesday, I will be speaking to the children in the Nursery and Pre-Prep about their own chimps and giving them some top tips to get him or her back under control. I had thought to take along my life sized chimp, but Mrs Thornton and Mrs Spencer suggested that a giant 6ft 2” chimp (with a moustache) may well terrify our Nursery children. I’ll think again! Helping all of our chimps to develop better self-regulation is vitally important and is just one of the many ways that we look to guide our young children in building mental resilience, a key skill for life.

RugbyKey skills are always a fascinating topic for discussion and we have been exploring different ideas as we look to integrate them in to our curriculum. We have an excellent curriculum but we also feel that there is an opportunity for us to develop something truly special by bringing greater coherence between subjects and across year groups, both in terms of content and the skills that we will look to teach. One of our areas of research has included the OECD ‘Education 2030’ paper in which hundreds of leading educationalists have contributed what they consider to be the key constructs required for future generations of learners. The list is comprehensive but so many of the qualities strike a chord with what we are already doing here. Promoting adaptability, flexibility and mental agility whilst also maintaining high levels of engagement, building communication skills and providing opportunities for collaboration. Hockey Perhaps the most important would be the development of meta-learning skills so that all children can truly understand how to learn. Having an open or growth mindset is hugely important and we have already made great strides in this area over recent years, as has also been the case with developing reflective thinking, as children become adept at evaluating their own learning. Respect for self and for others is a cornerstone within our values and the OECD recognise this as vital for the future. There are many, many more and our plans continue to develop under the leadership of Dan Morris. We look forward to sharing more on this as the academic year progresses.

Of course, the world that our children live in now is a far cry from that experienced by the brave men and women who gave their lives for the protection of our country during conflicts across the world, and this morning we will gather together as a school to give thanks for their lives and to remember them all. So much of our time is spent looking to the future, it is important that we also remind ourselves of what has come before, and this morning we will take a moment to do exactly that.

Mon 11th Nov 2019, 13:13

As many of you will know, Thursday 10th October was World Mental Health Day with this important topic brought to the forefront of our thinking through extensive media coverage. It is a subject that probably touches every one of us in some way, either through our own experiences or those of someone close to us, and therefore how we address this in school is of huge significance to the future generations who are growing up in an ever more complex world. On the mentalhealth.org website, it states that ‘If you’re in good mental health, you can:

  • make the most of your potential
  • cope with life
  • play a full part in your family, workplace, community and among friends.’

I think that we would all agree that these three aspirations are as important in our schools as in any other part of society. Indeed, some people suggest that mental health, ‘emotional health’ or ‘well-being’ is just as important as good physical health, and I am sure that we would all concur. For me, the 2nd bullet point does cast a rather dark shadow with the notion that life is something that we have to cope with. MusicFrom my perspective, surrounded by children aged 2 to 11, life is to be lived to the full, with exploration, and adventure at its very heart, but the sad reality is that our children do need to learn to cope, and that is where the key experiences and messages during their early education are so crucial in building a foundation of strong mental health.

In a moment of serendipity, as I sat writing this blog, an e-mail arrived in my inbox offering me the opportunity to attend an IAPS course entitled ‘Pastoral Support: mental health and wellbeing for your school community. What path are you on?’ It is a good question for all schools to ask themselves. In October 2018 the Government announced new mental health initiatives in which they indicated that pupils will be given routine mental health checks and teachers will be trained to carry out the ‘wellbeing’ assessments at primary and secondary schools, to spot potential issues among children as young as four. My sense is that we are on a very important path when it comes to educating children about mental health and providing them with strategies to help them identify when things are not going to plan and the most appropriate action to take.

In a recent article written by Helen Pike, Master of Magdalen College, the importance of ‘exercise, managing stress, yoga, meditation, cookery and music’ for mental well-being were all mentioned but one area that she rightly highlights as of vital importance is sleep. As I sit penning my thoughts at the end of a busy week, the subject of sleep is not far from my thoughts, but it is so often a major contributor to poor mental health, even more so in young children. Often, they struggle most when they are over-tired and as a busy Prep School with long days, we know as well as anyone how important it is to find the right balance. CookingThe truth is that young children tend to have pretty impressive batteries (the image of the Duracell bunny vs other inferior alkaline options is often a metaphor, I think, for families with young children) but that is not to pay lip service to the need for them to have time in the day for quiet, calm, restorative moments. If your children get plenty of sleep then they are one step closer to avoiding developing early issues with mental health.

In the immortal words of Bob Hoskins in the BT adverts of the mid 90s, “It’s good to talk.” Giving children the confidence to know that there is always someone who will listen is the first step in getting children to talk about how they are feeling. Our form teachers are always on hand and we are blessed with an exceptional Pastoral Deputy Head who is often the first port of call when children have concerns. He has the worries box outside of his study, where children can drop notes if they need help or advice, and this has recently been extended to include an online worries box, where e-mails can be sent directly to him. Often, any concerns can be addressed quickly and seemingly big issues in the minds of our young children can be dealt with before fears start to grow.

Exercise and play are also crucial elements in cultivating a healthy mindset and during the days here at Blundell’s Prep, the children engage in lots of physical activity, whether playing with friends at break times, utilising our beautiful grounds for outdoor learning or participating in daily Games and PE sessions, not to mention the weekly matches against other schools or the after school club provision which includes lots of additional physical activities, including yoga. The well-known mantra, ‘healthy body, healthy mind’ rings true for all of our children.

Staying hydrated is an area often neglected but not for our children. Having done away with single use plastic water bottles last year, we had several water machines installed from which the children can top up their own bottles. They took a little while to get used to but I am pleased to say that most of the water now goes where it is supposed to go rather than on the carpet directly in front of the machine!

Music Cooking

Music and cooking are also proven to help with mental health and we are fortunate to have access to both within our curriculum. Those parents who joined us for the first Tea-Time concert of the year would certainly have had their spirits raised by the performances, with several children demonstrating their skills for the first time in front of an audience. Of course, our love of cooking is well known and to see the many different culinary treats that emerge from our FT room is something to behold. We should not underestimate just how important it is for children to have access to these different experiences.

It is often said that showing kindness towards others begets kindness and we recognise this on a daily basis through our school motto, Non Sibi or ‘Not for one’s self.’ In our assembly last week, we explored this through the medium of hula hoops and Jammie Dodger biscuits. Arthur and Jacob were willing volunteers from Year 3 and they showed the rest of the school how working together for a common goal, showing consideration for others, was a powerful vehicle for ensuring that our community remains a place where kindness is commonplace. If we are to ensure that our children grow in to healthy and happy adults then getting all of these foundations in place is of paramount importance, and as teachers, we remind ourselves of this on a daily basis.

This coming week, Year 6 will be put through their paces with a circus skills workshop, testing their capacity to show positive mindsets when faced with some new challenges. We have done a great deal of work on fostering a growth mindset culture within the school and our senior pupils have always shown a willingness to learn from their mistakes. I can imagine that this may be put to the test – we wish them all the best of luck!

Mon 14th Oct 2019, 15:57

A great deal has happened since my last Blog post of two weeks ago and the new term is certainly in full swing. Children and parents are settled in to the rhythm of school life, routines are now embedded and the days are packed full of interesting and exciting lessons and activities. The smiles of week one are still there, alas the sunshine is not, but at least the rain has softened up the pitches. I thought that I would focus on three things this week: online safety, bugs and pupil voice. A prize awaits for the person who can identify the connection.

Presentation Presentation

On Tuesday of last week we welcomed Sergeant Steve Shepherd from the South West Grid for Learning to BPS for an afternoon of Online Safety talks. His time was spent talking to children from Years 1 to 6 in different sessions, exploring how to stay safe, dispelling myths and offering words of caution and advice. A session with parents followed and then the teachers joined Steve for a very hard-hitting 75 minutes in which the dangers of unregulated use of the Internet were discussed. It is impossible for me to share everything here but there were some key questions raised and some alarming statistics shared which are worthy of mention – sobering it most certainly was, although I resisted the temptation to throw my router out of the window when I got home! The fact is that the internet works and it is an amazing thing. It isn’t the technology that is the problem, it’s our attitude and behaviours, and this is where our focus should be. Gone are the times when we could absolve ourselves of responsibility with a simple “This is all new” because it is not. Technology is moving at a pace and our children simply do not know a world without it – to them, wi-fi is a given, a utility as expected as running water, and there is no getting away from that. But the internet is a tool and this is the message that we share with the children here at Blundell’s Prep. Steve posed the question “Would you leave your 5 year old in a room on their own with a hammer?” If the answer is “no”, then why do you leave your 5 year old alone with an iPad? Of course, it’s not all bad. Apparently, 1 in 3 marriages start online and they actually last longer as better and more selective choices are made. Perhaps more shocking was the statistic that 40% of unborn children already have a social media presence – in a world where consent is so important, this does raise a few questions which some parents may have to answer in the years to come. Of course, you will not be surprised to learn that online games and social media featured heavily in our discussions. Firstly, do not link your credit card to the games that your children play, unless you want a hefty bill – there is no such thing as a free game! Secondly, your child is probably far more savvy than you think so if you believe that you know exactly what they are doing on social media, this may not be the case. Thirdly, you may think that you can protect them from some of the vile games that are out there by not buying them but remember that they can probably access YouTube on which they can watch others playing these games. It’s unlikely that you have a filter on YouTube so it’s certainly worth being vigilant. Steve’s advice was clear - vigilance and communication is the key. Take an interest in what your child is doing, talk to them about it, provide boundaries and expectations, and at the end of the day, if they still don’t like it, you are the adult! Some great resources were shared by Steve and subsequently highlighted by Mr Morris in this week’s iLetter so please do take a look at those.

Thank you to those parents who joined us just over a week ago for our Prep Harvest Festival. As promised, it was not your traditional ‘We plough the fields and scatter’ affair but instead was influenced by a well known ITV show based in Australia and hosted by that much loved Geordie duo, Ant and Dec. In an effort to celebrate the abundant food that we enjoy and to encourage the children to try new things, I invited (in one case coerced) a select group of children and parents to join in with our very own Bushtucker Trial. 10 places set with 10 different ‘foods’ to eat, our children sampled the delights of stilton cheese, dried prunes, jalapeno peppers and the old favourite, a cold Brussels sprout but we saved the more exotic options for our parents. Mealworms, crickets, Buffalo worms and grasshoppers were revealed and duly consumed to the great delight of the assembled guests, with the roof of the hall nearly coming off to the chant of “Southgate, Southgate” (yes, I know which parent started that off) as I was encouraged to join in. And what did they choose for me to eat? Need you ask? A grasshopper of course, and delicious it was too. As I reminded the children, bugs are full of protein and essential nutrients, as well as being abundant, and they may well be the food of the future. For now, I’ll stick to more conventional meals but the children in the audience were so keen to try these tasty offerings that they appeared ‘en masse’ at my study door later that day to ask if they could try some. In amongst the laughter, the message that we need to explore our attitudes towards food, particularly the sheer volume of waste within our world, came across loud and clear thanks to the wonderful work of Daisy in Year 6, whose independent project on food waste inspired me to share her message. Thank you for all of the very generous donations to our Harvest collection which we have now shared with CHAT, the Church Housing Action Team here in Tiverton.

Lunch Lunch Lunch

One of our many aims for this year was to give all of our pupils more of a say in the running of their school (dangerous, I know but I have complete faith in our children!) and when our Year 6 children met at the start of last week they did not disappoint. The subject was our Prefect system, and we asked for suggestions as to how these roles could be enhanced for the benefit of everyone within the school. For some years now, every child in Year 6 has had the opportunity to wear the Prefect tie and badge, to use the sliding front door to the Prep School and to take the lead in their final year. When we asked them what they thought about this privilege, they said that they wanted to do more and so we explored this with them. After some very detailed discussions, our Prefects of 2019/20 will get to sit on benches for every assembly, they will ensure that everyone can see the hymn lyrics during assemblies by taking responsibility for the visualizer and they will make announcements regarding playground equipment and other important play time issues. They will take a lead during wet breaks by playing games with the younger children and they will help our Year 3 pupils with their reading on Friday afternoons. They will also be allowed to sit on the purple chairs at the head of every dining table, encouraging good manners and polite conversation. It is great credit to our senior pupils that they perceive service as a privilege and with that sort of perspective on life, the future looks bright. Perhaps our politicians should follow suit!

Mon 30th Sept 2019, 08:00

As I sit writing my first blog of the new academic year, the campus is alive with activity and the sun is shining. After the long summer break, it has been good to get back to normality and this sentiment has certainly been echoed by our parents as I have greeted them at the gate of a morning. Blundell’s is back in action for another year and it promises to be an exciting one, with new pupils across every year group and new staff, all of whom have settled back in to the rhythm of school life. There has been a buzz about the place these last two weeks and that is what makes this place so special.

Outdoors Outdoors

OutdoorsThe Summer edition of our Review magazine will be with you very shortly and I hope that you enjoy reminiscing about all that took place over the summer term. Our Year 6 leavers are now firmly ensconced in Year 7 and it has been lovely to see many of them in their new uniforms, waiting for younger siblings at the Prep School. They look so grown up and are clearly enjoying the new opportunities in School House. OutdoorsFor our Pre-Prep and Prep pupils, there is much to look forward to, not least the introduction of ‘Wild Wonders’, our very own bespoke Forest School sessions which take place in our grounds, created by Mrs Morris and her very talented father. I joined the Nursery children for their first experience and it was wonderful to see their excitement as they crossed the ‘troll bridge’ and then turned the corner to see the different resources that had been built, including the most incredible mud kitchen that you will ever see - sparkling clean but not for very long as our Nursery children, head to toe in purple all in one waterproofs busily started preparing delicious feasts for their teachers to enjoy. One little boy had clearly been enjoying some al fresco dining over the summer as he proudly announced that he was having a BBQ as he carefully flipped the wooden ‘burgers’ – yummy!

In my first Prep assembly of the year, I asked children to think about not just what they want to achieve over the coming months but how they will achieve their goals. What can they do to make their dreams come true? It’s all very well having big ideas but without a clear plan, a path of pursuit, those dreams may remain just that, and we want to further develop every child’s understanding as to how they can take control of their learning. We spent a great deal of time developing positive mindsets last year but also helping children to see how they can use feedback to make progress across every part of their lives. For many the impact was remarkable but there is more to be done and help from parents will continue to be vital. At the start of this new year, we are keen to forge ever stronger links between home and school, working together to help your children to become the very best version of themselves. On that topic… I will be sharing my annual ‘Good Manners’ assembly this week in the hope that we can get a few good habits in place, not just around school but also at home. I know all too well how things slip a little over the summer, during BBQ season when knives and forks are less necessary, and when we don’t have Mrs Moys and her team to keep a watchful eye over what we are eating. Please reinforce good habits at home and in return we will endeavour to reduce the number of occasions when you can identify what your child has had for lunch by the stains on their shirts and dresses!

The air of positivity that has been so evident these last few weeks around school is in stark contrast to what is going on in the wider world. Like many of you, I am exhausted and increasingly frustrated by the rhetoric of our politicians, a number of whom think that in order to win populist favour with an ever more divided public, they can gleefully use the Independent sector as a punching bag. Leaked documents indicating that a Labour government would abolish business rates for Independent schools and add VAT to fees, potentially even ‘integrating’ Independent schools in to the state system, does make the already turbulent political landscape look all the more alarming. It is an unprecedented time in British politics and as an educator of young people, charged by Government to promote fundamental British values of democracy, justice and the rule of law, I continue to be deeply concerned that our politicians are making a mockery of the very principles and values that they themselves have insisted that we teach in schools. In simple terms, what sort of example are they setting for the children? For those of you who were able to join us for the Welcome meetings this last week, you will have heard us speak of our plans for the development of our curriculum, with the key intention of preparing our children for life after school, life in the real world, a life that may look very different from the one we are experiencing today. Let’s all hope that the months ahead provide greater clarity as to what that future will hold for all of us. I won’t hold my breath!

Touch Rugby TournamentI will take this opportunity to draw your attention to events over the next two weeks, including an E-Safety presentation for parents on Tuesday 24th September, between 4.45 and 6.00pm. Touch Rugby TournamentWhen we last put on a presentation of this type some two years ago it was very well attended but two years is a long time in the world of E-Safety so I would urge as many parents as possible from across the school to come along. This includes parents of children who headed up to the senior school over recent years. A lot of the content is likely to be useful for you so please do spread the word and come along. We will also be holding our Prep Harvest Festival on Friday to which all parents are warmly invited. It will not necessarily be the most traditional of formats, but if you are a fan on ‘I’m a celebrity, get me out of here’ then you’ll enjoy what I have planned!

Touch Rugby Tournament Touch Rugby Tournament

Monday morning update – I couldn’t finish my first blog of the year without mentioning the events of yesterday (Sunday) afternoon as the inaugural Blundell’s Touch Rugby Tournament was played on Big Field. In blazing heat, the Blundell’s Braves, split across three teams, performed very well indeed against some talented opposition. Touch Rugby TournamentIn a close final, it was the Blundell’s Senior School staff (and guests!) who came out victorious and were worthy winners. My thanks as always go to our FoBP Committee who gave up their time on a Sunday to keep everyone fed and watered and a special mention to Tom Cowle who masterminded the whole event. If you see some very weary looking men this morning, you’ll know why – even my commute across the car-park to the office was a bit of a struggle this morning!

Enjoy the week ahead.

Mon 16th Sept 2019, 08:11