The Head Master with Prep pupils

Head Master's Blog

Autumn Term 2017

I must confess that I have been struggling to nail down a theme for this week’s blog and have been humming and harring about what to choose. I know that I need to make a decision and have all manner of possible options to choose from but as I sit here typing the first few lines I am uncertain as to exactly where I am going to go. Those who are kind enough to read my fortnightly blog may well suggest that, judging by previous blog offerings, that level of chaotic uncertainty is the norm! So, I start with what has been discussed in school since we returned after what I hope was an enjoyable half term. On Monday, I told the children about a man called Kyle Macdonald who turned a red paper clip into a house. Not a doll’s house but a real life, two storey house for him to live in. He traded up over a period of time and his story is inspiring and heart-warming in equal measure. (See YouTube.) It has also led to the sudden disappearance of paper clips in school but that is another story altogether. At the heart of Kyle’s story is the idea that other people will always see value in items that you no longer want or need and Kyle recognised this and chose to do something about it in order to make his life better and ended up improving the lives of others in the process. He chose to take action, reviewed the options, considered how his choice could be of benefit to others as well as himself and then came to a conclusion as to what to do. It was a fascinating process but one that I think has great relevance to what we as educators are looking to share with the children as they move through the school.

FireworksChildren make choices every day, some good and some less good, but capturing those moments and helping them to learn from their experiences is of great importance. A current hot topic in school is children running in corridors, something that has led to a few close calls, as Mrs FitzHerbert can testify to. We are encouraging the children to make good choices as they move around the school, to avoid running and to be aware of other people as they make their way between classes. When you are 8 years old and you are heading out to break to get your Friday doughnut, the temptation to blast down the corridor can be all too much but making that choice could have repercussions, far worse than simply having to have a ring doughnut rather than a jam one!

When one listens to all that has been going on in Hollywood, in Westminster and beyond, it is all the more important to help young people to better understand that the choices that people make in life can have serious consequences. For our children it may be choosing whether or not to run down a corridor, to say something hurtful or to say something kind instead, to let someone join in a game or to leave them out, or simply to put their hand up in class to attempt an answer or to keep quiet and let others make the contribution. Although very different in outcome, the decision making process is of vital importance. Here are a few suggestions as to how we can all support the children in learning to make good choices:

  1. Involve children in your own decision-making. For example, you might say, “I’m trying to decide whether to go for a run or for a swim, which do you think I should do?” Talk through the pros and cons of each suggestion so your child can learn how to evaluate different options.
  2. Look for opportunities to let children make choices for themselves. It is important that the choice really is theirs, so make sure that you provide options that you will be happy with no matter which they choose!
  3. As children develop their skills for thinking through decisions, teach them these steps of decision-making and show them how to use them effectively:
    • What decision needs to be made?
    • What could I do?
    • Which could be the best decision?
    • Has it worked as I had hoped it would? (this is the most important bit!)

On Thursday evening at our fantastic Bonfire Party, the 500 guests had the tough decision when selecting whether to buy a delicious hot dog or a scrumptious hog roast. Thankfully, both choices were good ones and everyone enjoyed the roaring fire and the spectacular fireworks display. Once again, we have our Friends of Blundell’s Prep Committee to thank for bringing the event together for all to enjoy.

This coming week, we will be welcoming to the Prep School the short-listed candidates for our Senior School Headship. They are four exceptional people and we look forward to working alongside the successful candidate over the years to come. For me, the question over the weekend was “Do I eat another chocolate from the Cadbury’s Hero box that was supposed to be for Christmas, or do I resist temptation?” I’ll leave it to you to decide if I made the right choice.

Mon 6th Nov 2017, 11:05

Half-term has arrived and I think that we will all be glad of the rest. It has been a busy seven weeks and we have packed a great deal in since returning to school in early September. Hockey teamThere have been many highlights, and if you follow us on Facebook or Twitter, or if you prefer to keep up to speed with the Prep and Pre-Prep news sections of the website, you will have a sense as to how busy school life has been. One of the highlights of the term happened just last week as our Under 11 Girls’ Hockey team qualified for the National finals in November. They played brilliantly and finished the regionals as runners-up, losing only in the dying moments of the final. It was a very impressive performance and as I received my regular e-mail updates, I was gripped with excitement. We wish the team well as they head off to compete against the very best Prep schools from across the country.

Outdoor Learning Outdoor Learning

Outdoor Learning Outdoor Learning Outdoor Learning

The last week and a half has seen all of the children from across the Nursery, Pre-Prep and Prep, head out for some wonderful curriculum based outdoor learning. We are passionate about including these experiences within the curriculum as we have seen first-hand the extraordinary impact that time outside, learning in a different way, can have for all of the children. Outdoor LearningHaving developed a well-established programme of whole and half day workshops with a focus on OL skills, we are now looking to further extend the way that academic departments use the outdoors to promote learning, and over the last 10 days we have seen Science and History based sessions taking place in and around the school. What has been abundantly clear is that when you change the learning environment, the effect on understanding and engagement can change dramatically, and for some children, this can be a real game changer. The staff here at Blundell’s have been keen advocates of OL for many years now and have worked hard to bring an increasing number of opportunities in to their ‘normal’ teaching’. It is not unusual to see Maths classes covering the playground in chalk shapes or English classes using the elements as inspiration for creative writing. Nor is it a shock when I see a line of Nursery children heading across the field to The Hub for another exciting adventure.

Outdoor LearningMrs Shelbourne, Mrs Aldridge and Mrs Morris are our OL leaders and are soon to complete their official Forest School training, allowing us to take another step towards a deeper integration of outdoor experiences within the curriculum. They mastermind the school’s OL programme and it was they who asked me as Prep History Co-ordinator, to run a morning for Year 6, something that I was delighted to do. Having previously explored trench warfare with our senior students, I decided to use the morning to fully explore what life would have been like for the soldiers on the western front in the days leading up to the 1st July 1916. Our replica trench was a vital resource but I needed to enlist the help of our Head of Maintenance and World War One expert, Mr Tony Addison, who brought with him an array of artefacts which had the children enthralled. Outdoor LearningMany of these treasures were placed around the school grounds and the children were tasked with searching them out, analysing what they were, hypothesising as to their use and then considering what questions they would ask as historians in order to find out more information about the provenance of their findings. The children returned to base camp where Mr Addison had helmets, uniforms, shells (not live!) and even a decommissioned Lee Enfield rifle for the children to examine and learn more about. I think that by lunchtime, poor Mr Addison was ready for a lie down, such was the enthusiasm and interest generated by the morning! What was particularly interesting for me was the way in which the children worked together, sharing ideas, asking questions and interrogating their sources in order to discover more. Those children who are at times slightly quieter in the classroom were some of the most enthusiastic contributors, and I believe that the outdoors plays a role in removing perceived barriers and promoting a deeper level of engagement. Of course, not all lessons can take place outside, nor should they, but there is great power in changing the paradigm and at BPS we are always looking to do just that.

Happy half-term to one and all!

Mon 23rd Oct 2017, 09:20

A great deal has happened over the last two weeks and as I sit down to write my now fortnightly blog, I am wondering how I will fit everything in. One of my very loyal and long-suffering blog readers has mentioned that I am yet to make my annual comment on the children’s table manners but I am delighted to say that they really are very good indeed. Of course, that is not to say that some further encouragement to keep mouths closed when full or to use a knife to cut rather than harpoon would be much appreciated! Our school lunches remain as delicious as ever and it is great to see the children trying new things and enjoying a wide range of nutritious meals.

Less nutritious, but very tasty, were the doughnuts that all of our new Prep children enjoyed when we met in the library to discuss the first few weeks in their new school. What was lovely to hear was how welcome they had been made to feel by their classmates, and we talked about the different things that they were enjoying as well as anything that they were still not sure about. It was an opportunity for me to listen to what they had to say, and it was hugely enjoyable.

Putting aside time to listen to children has been a topic that I have been giving some thought to of late. We move through our days at a pace, driven on by the need to get things done. As teachers, as parents, as people engaging in the ‘busyness’ of life, we move from task to task, and the children are often dragged along with us. It is therefore all the more important that we put aside time to simply listen to what they have to say. In our Nursery and Reception classes, the children are always keen to share their ideas, and they are often absolute gems of creativity. If you have been following our Facebook or Twitter pages, you will have seen that they have been having a wonderful time this term and as you might imagine, the exciting topics have generated some fascinating discussions. On Friday, I listened as Reception teacher, Mrs Allen and Nursery teacher, Mrs Thornton discussed the importance of how these conversations with young children are managed. ‘Wait, watch and wonder’ were the key principles when allowing the children to share their thoughts and I think that these principles can be applied more widely in our lives. I know as well as anyone that this can be hard. As a teacher, you have objectives to fulfil, a curriculum to cover, and in the case of the Early Years, comprehensive observations to record. Sometimes it can be very difficult to step back from this and simply listen, but it is vital that we do. There are many reasons why this is becoming an increasingly significant issue and it is not just the pace of life that is playing its part. In a recent BBC article by Emma Thelwell, it was suggested that almost two thirds of school children would not mind if social media had never been invented. A further study stated that 54% of children think that their parents are on technology too much. The impact of ‘technoference’ is a very real issue and one that we must all accept and look to address if we are to be there for our children when they need us most. Making sense of the world today cannot be easy for them, and when the news reports on stories of mass shootings in Las Vegas or the increasing political tension between North Korea and America, our children need to be given the opportunity to talk things through, to ask questions and to share their fears. I for one, will be trying harder to listen.

This weekend, we welcomed a very encouraging number of families to the school for our Open Morning. Children from years 4 to 6 (and their parents!) kindly gave up their Saturday morning lie-in to come and help bring the school to life, and there was an audible buzz about the place as our visitors were drawn in by the aroma of freshly baked chocolate brownies and the excitement of Quiz Club. Our talented musicians gave solo performances, our budding scientists were completing various experiments and our artists were flexing their creative muscles with paints a plenty. Our Year 6 tour guides were simply outstanding, and I must confess that I did earwig at times, only to hear the children talking with great affection about their daily lives at school. They were wonderful ambassadors and I was very proud of them all.

Next week, we have lots of outdoor learning to look forward to, with a Science themed morning on Tuesday for Year 4 whilst Year 3 are out and about in Tiverton, with a visit to Knightshayes included. There is a History inspired morning on Thursday for Year 6 before Year 5 follow a Science theme on Friday. As we race towards half term there is much to look forward to.

Mon 9th Oct 2017, 08:29

When was the last time that you read a really good book? Having quite recently enjoyed a lengthy Summer break, I managed to indulge my love of Jack Reacher novels as well as catching up with some more educational texts, The Chimp Paradox being a particular favourite. Whilst on holiday, it was interesting to observe what other holiday makers were reading as they sat by the pool and I have to be honest, I didn’t see much reading going on with the many kids that were there. I saw lots of tablets and lots of phones, and it may well be the case that they were reading books on these electronic devices, but I’d hazard a guess that this was not really the case. Over the years, I have had numerous conversations with parents as to how best to encourage children to read and I would love to say that I have a magic formula but it can be very tricky. Finding the appropriate text is key and by appropriate I mean something that will excite them but also something that they can access, understand and explain, should they be required to. This is not always straightforward and when the request to read Harry Potter comes it is difficult to resist. This is where school needs to play its part and over the last 3 weeks we have seen this in action as the children have immersed themselves in the Accelerated Reading Scheme (AR). Children’s author James Mayhew visitsOver the Summer break, the Library was transformed in readiness for the children’s return and the timetable restructured to allocate an additional 2 hours a week for reading, and what an impact it has had. Our school librarian, a rather old fashioned position you may think, but absolute gold dust in my view, has noted a massive increase in pupils taking books from the library, so much so that a new signing out folder may soon be required! On top of this, the new reading periods are led by English set teachers with support from all of the staff, cultivating a potent culture of inclusivity that is making reading the thing to do – it’s cool to read and that is a powerful position to be in. Add in the incentives of raffle tickets when 100% is scored in an AR ‘Quiz’ (completed after every book has been read) and the promise of a Millionaire’s Lunch, and you see children of all ages, and all reading ages, ploughing through books and hungry for the next one. It has not been without its teething problems and we have faced the inevitable rush through a book that comes when you build a competitive element in to a system but with lots of support from the teachers, and some additional time taken to help children select appropriate books, there is a sense that this is now under control. We have also had to manage the ‘Harry Potter syndrome’ as I alluded to earlier, and that is children wanting to read books that are at a level beyond their current understanding. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that and we have been keen to address this with a few parents who have been concerned that the children are now ‘not allowed’ to read these books. Our mission is to encourage children to develop a love of reading but we also have a duty to ensure that the children can truly comprehend the content and this is why AR is such an important part of our programme. But that does not mean that other books cannot be enjoyed and if children want to read other material alongside their AR books then all the better. Finding a way to encourage children to read is a challenge for educators and for many parents, but the last 3 weeks have shown that targeted support and a strong culture of reading can make a big difference in children’s lives.

The literary theme continued on Friday of last week as we welcomed children’s author, James Mayhew to the school. Throughout the day he held workshops with all of the children from Nursery to Year 6 and his visit had quite an impact. Children’s author James Mayhew visitsJames is not only a talented author but he is also an illustrator and as he told his stories to the children, he brought them to life with beautiful illustrations, even managing to draw and paint upside down! The children were captivated and keen to ask questions of James, and his answer to one particular question from a Year 6 pupil was quite revealing. “Were you always good at English when you were at school?” was answered very honestly as James explained that he didn’t find it easy but through hard work and determination, he improved and discovered a talent and a passion for writing stories. This is a good message for the children to hear and one that I hope will inspire them on to put even more into AR and their wider studies over the coming weeks.

In other news...

Our Open Morning takes place on Saturday 7th October and we are looking forward to welcoming families to the school. I am grateful that our children in Years 4 to 6 will be giving their time to come in to school for the morning in order to enjoy some activities and to welcome our guests. If you know anyone who you think may like to come along, then please do encourage them to get in touch with us.

One Day Event One Day Event One Day Event

The Blundell’s One Day Event is a highlight in the school’s calendar and this weekend our talented equestrians were out in force at the Bicton Arena. I must confess that my knowledge of all things ‘horsey’ is not at all impressive but what was impressive was the standard of performance, especially from the very youngest riders in the competition, Bea and Harry, who represented Blundell’s Prep School with a huge amount of credit. Harry put together a very composed dressage, especially after his pony decided that now was the time to go to the toilet! Bea was wonderfully brave during the cross-country as she fell from her horse but got back on to complete the course. The whole day was superbly run by the school’s equestrian team, led by Mrs Batting and ably supported by the committee including our very own Mrs Charlesworth, all of whom worked tirelessly from the early hours in order to make the day such a success. It was suggested that I could buy a pony – not sure that the one I’m pictured with would be quite big enough!

Finally, I would encourage you to follow us on Facebook or Twitter as it is a great way to keep up with the many exciting events going on across the school, including visits from ‘superheroes’!

Have a good week.

Mon 25th Sept 2017, 10:49

Having been in schools for 20 years, I have become accustomed to a certain look in a parent’s eyes on the first day back after the summer break. That mixture of relief and joy, tinged with a dash of anxiety – I have been there myself so know well the challenges faced with entertaining the children for most of July and August, not to mention the staggering food bills! However you feel about the start of the new term, I do hope that you have managed to enjoy the summer break and are refreshed and ready for all that lies ahead.

Reading Reading

ReadingSince the end of term, there has been plenty still going on in school. The Prep Library has had a make-over and is now a far warmer and welcoming environment for the children to access every day, thanks in no small part to the generosity of our FoBP Committee who have kindly provided some lovely new rugs and cosy beanbags for the children to snuggle into when reading. The rather soggy start of the term has provided an opportunity for them to do just that, much to their delight. The huge job of preparing for the introduction of Accelerated Reader has been completed and Mrs Southgate has added ‘School Librarian’ to her already lengthy job description, but the end result is that we are ready and raring to go with this exciting enhancement to our educational offering.

School changing rooms do not always conjure up the greatest of visual pictures but over the holidays, ours have been transformed, much to the amazement of the children as they walked in for the first time. The new space is a huge improvement for our boys and girls, with plenty of room and modern facilities for them to fully utilise, especially through the wetter days. I am indebted to our Assistant Bursar (Estates), James Halton who worked so hard to ensure that the project was finished in time for the first day back.

Girls in the playground Boys in the playground

As well as new facilities, we also welcome two new members of staff to BPS. Miss Steel joins us in Year One and Mr Martin in Year Five, and both have really enjoyed their first week. Thank you for making them feel so welcome. Girls playingI should also mention that Miss Howlett became Mrs Morris over the summer break having married (obviously) Mr Morris. They had a beautiful wedding and I am sure that you will join me in wishing them every happiness in the future.

The term started with Pre-season hockey and rugby for Years 3 to 6 on Wednesday and then two days of school in which children got back into the swing of things, ably helped to remember the key details by Mr Howkins during our first Prep assembly. His knowledge of the particulars of the school day were challenged by Miss Roberts who took him on in a competition entitled ‘So you think you know BPS?’ and what a competition it proved to be, much to the delight of the children. We have made some changes to the timetable this year including the introduction of a daily, 30 minute Accelerated Reader period, so the timings for the afternoons are a little different, not that this fazed our pupils of course. Girls playingWe have also brought in a new Management Information System called iSAMS and this is going to provide us with a very powerful tool with which to manage and fully utilise the wealth of information that we have on the children. The staff have been very supportive of the changes and I know that they are keen to explore to full potential of this industry leading MIS.

I am always keen to share as much as I can with parents and this blog provides an opportunity to mention developments and to reflect on life at school. There is a great deal that goes on and I am acutely aware that it can be quite a challenge to keep up to speed with it all. On Friday the first iLetter of the year went out and at the start of next week the ‘Welcome’ meetings begin, so there will be a number of opportunities to hear more about what we have planned for the year ahead. In a slight change to previous years, all parents of children in Years 3 to 6 will also have the chance to visit their child’s form room and to spend time with their child’s form teacher, ensuring that lines of communication are as open as they can be. Please do join us at these meetings if you can. As well as on our school website, this fortnightly blog will also appear on Twitter and on Facebook so do feel free to like or share if you feel so inclined.

I look forward to seeing you during the weeks ahead.

Mon 11th Sept 2017, 08:57