Red boat climbing frame

Head Master's Blog

Spring Term 2018

Having written about the joy of a ‘Snow Day’ in a previous Blog, it is only right that I make mention of it now, even though the white stuff is all but gone. As I addressed the children in my Monday assembly last week, there were stories of snowman making, snowball fights and sledging down closed roads, all of which will be remembered for many years to come. I also heard about a certain member of staff cracking out her skies to sample various ‘blue and red routes’ in her local area and another who found that her horse was perfect for pulling a sledge behind her. It sounds like there was a great deal of fun had by all and that is what snow days should be all about. Snow dayI think that many of the children were somewhat disappointed that there was not more over the weekend! Having kept the school open on Thursday, the weather forecast was spot-on for the afternoon and evening, as the heavy snow rolled in. We awoke to deep snow on Friday morning and amidst the excitement, stories of villages being cut off and people in genuine danger. Of course, there is always an element of panic when weather like this heads our way, and the bread shelves in Tesco bore testimony to that very fact! However, there was also an outpouring of generosity and kindness, and this appeared to be in abundance within our local communities as we heard stories of people coming to the aid of those in most need of help. People offered support in any way that they could, and local news spoke of 4x4 drivers offering their services to take food and medical supplies to rural communities, or giving lifts to those whose professions are so vital that keeping their appointments may be a matter of life or death. This generosity of the human spirit was wonderful to see and must have made a very real difference to many people, even if one or two callers into the BBC Radio 2 Jeremy Vine show did suggest that 4x4 drivers were simply “showing off”. Such a shame that such cynicism exists – hey ho.

I’m not sure if Tiverton has ever appeared on the BBC National news for two days running, but on Friday evening we saw the Tiverton Town Centre featured as the heavy snow fell and then on Saturday morning, our very own Piano Teacher, Mrs Ali Berry and family, interviewed alongside the 16th Century bridge at Bickleigh. She spoke of the community spirit that exists locally and I have to say that this was in abundance here at Blundell’s as the school rallied together. The grounds staff and school porters were remarkable, as they spent Friday moving snow from roads and paths so that the site could be safely accessed. Kitchen staff walked in to make sure that there was food to eat and those teachers living locally headed in to school to deliver lessons. Here at the Prep on Thursday there was an extraordinary sense of collective team spirit as everyone rallied to make sure that our families could be supported whilst ensuring that colleagues were safe.

Snow day Snow day

There are always unsung heroes in any community and on the Thursday before last, we had a gathering at Big School to say a fond farewell to Mr William Lancelles who has been the Head Gardener at Blundell’s for the past 35 years. He has made a quite extraordinary contribution to the beautiful environment we enjoy at school, covered briefly last week by the snow, but here for ours and countless future generations to enjoy. It was lovely to be able to recognise his contribution to the school community and there were speeches from no less than six Blundell’s and Blundell’s Prep Heads, such has been the length of William’s tenure and the high esteem in which he is held. William will be a tough act to follow but we welcome Mr Harry Flower (yes, that is his name) to the team at Blundell’s.

Last week I came across this article in the TES and thought it worth sharing, especially in light of recent weather events. The subject is ‘Risky Play’ and my thoughts turned to how our approach to this has changed over the years. As a society, we are more risk averse and that is perhaps inevitable, but have we gone too far? The snow fall brought stories of snow ball fights being banned in schools, and whilst I know from my own school experience that a 1000 strong pitched battle is far from ideal, surely there has to be some understanding that kids will want to throw snow balls and that is ok. Yes, there are risks, but in the interests of child development and making memories, are they worth taking? On Friday, I watched on as Blundell’s pupils fashioned sledges from anything they could find that would provide maximum velocity and therefore, maximum enjoyment. Composting bags appeared to be the material of choice and there were howls of laughter and screams of joy as they hurtled down the slope in Ten Acre Field. Everyone was having a great time and whilst there were a few painful looking crashes, everyone emerged unscathed. I do wonder what the future will hold with regards to risky play but it is something that I believe can and should be part of school life.

Mon 12th Mar 2018, 08:00

With the Winter Olympics coming to a close this weekend, and the Curling craze finally subsiding, it appears that the temperatures experienced by the athletes in South Korea have headed our way. The bright blue skies on Sunday belied the chill of the wind and as we look towards a week of sporting activities, I hope that the children are ready to wrap up warm – I certainly will be when I head to Taunton on Wednesday with my mighty U10 B hockey team! Our cross-country runners will also be in action this week and we wish them well – they may even have snow to contend with, but they are a hardy bunch. Looking back to my own time at school, cross-country was not a strength, although it was the only part of PE that I did not love. Sport was a firm favourite and I was fortunate to go to a Grammar school, which valued it greatly, so there were regular opportunities to take part. Contrast this with what is currently being experienced in some parts of the maintained sector and the trend is alarming.

group photo

This week I read several articles on ‘The decline of school PE’, both written by those who were, by their own admission, not the most enthusiastic or the most able of athletes at school. They did not like PE and yet they write in such positive terms as to its importance within the school curriculum. With schools funding under attack and the ever looming pressure of exam results, PE has been the subject to ‘take the hit’ and if this continues, a whole raft of invaluable skills will be marginalised as a result. In his TES article this week, Geoff Barton, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders makes a clear case for the value of PE in schools when he reflects on his own teaching career and writes that ‘Most of all, I saw how sport and PE unlocked leadership skills in young people, building in them the confidence to speak with pride, to welcome guests, to venture overseas, and to become extraordinary ambassadors for our school’ and having taught in Prep Schools for 20 years, I would wholeheartedly agree. When taught in the right way, PE and Games can have a profoundly positive impact on pupils. We see our children working together in demanding environments, being challenged physically and mentally, having to co-operate often in pressurised situations or when fatigue is kicking in, and through this they learn some very valuable life lessons. They learn that they can push themselves a little harder than they may have first thought and this builds self-efficacy, something that we know is under attack from the pressures of the modern world. Resilience, or lack thereof, is often quoted as being alarmingly absent in the Snowflake Generation, and my sense is that PE and sport can play a part in changing that. If nothing else, it is the unequivocal physiological advantages that participation in physical activity brings and this must be a priority in a society that has to contend with growing rates of childhood obesity. If you hadn’t guessed by now, I am still a PE teacher at heart, and whilst I have also taught History for those 20 years, I remain a disciple of the late, great, Martin Underwood, a St. Luke’s legend and a PE man through and through. He may have despaired at my enthusiastic yet utterly incompetent efforts in gymnastics, yet his passion for a physical education has stayed with me to this day.

Hockey Netball

Of course, there will be those for whom PE was not the most positive of experiences and they may well have felt their education was blighted by the sort of PE teacher made infamous by the film, Kes. In her article in the Guardian this week, Anna Kessel raises concerns over the quality of PE teaching when she writes: ‘Even when children are getting access to PE, there are concerns about the quality of the lessons. Primary school teachers receive an average of just six hours’ training in delivering PE lessons – and many report feeling unassured and ill-prepared as a result, a situation exacerbated by the fact that many teachers themselves had negative experiences of PE at school’ This is undoubtedly an issue and one that should receive urgent action, as high quality PE teaching requires a raft of teaching methods if it is to delivered effectively and certainly far more input than, as Kessel suggests, ‘a roar of “Unlucky, mate!” or “RUN!”. I preferred to focus on the sentiment contained within the majority of the article rather than the penultimate paragraph, after all, if one were to scrutinise the % of senior leaders within our schools with a PE background, you would see that PE teachers tend to occupy a very significant number of these positions. At BPS we are fortunate to have a fantastic team who contribute to the PE and Games curriculum, with experienced subject specialists (5 of them in fact) working alongside highly skilled Games practitioners and, most importantly, exceptional teachers, for whom highly differentiated lessons are the norm. Add to that our Heads of Elite sport at the Senior School, and you see just how much value is placed on participation in physical activity. As Barton writes, this ‘is essential not just to our physical health, but to who we are as human beings – to our sense of self, our self-control, our social interactions, our mental wellbeing’. Let’s hope that we see a change of course on this within the maintained sector as all children deserve a truly rounded education and PE must play a fundamental part in that.

group photo

Mon 26th Feb 2018, 13:24

Creative Arts Week came to a spectacular end on Friday with each of the Houses performing their House songs to an appreciative audience of parents. Our usual Awards Assembly was combined with musical performances including Rag ‘n’ Bone Man, Take That and Queen – quite a selection of musical tastes catered for there – and a recognition of all that had taken place during the previous five days. CAW is always a highlight of the Spring Calendar and this year we welcomed guest artists Tony Minnion, Ed Jobling, Kate Kay and Rory Nugent to BPS as well as a host of very willing parent volunteers, all of whom came together to provide the children with a rich array of artistic opportunities. Whilst art played a key part in the week, we also enjoyed Play in a Day performances from children in Years 2 and 4, and the much loved (and hugely competitive) House Music. In a time when access to the arts in schools is being increasingly marginalised, it is worth reflecting on the potential impact that this could have on pupil’s futures.

group photo

I was reading an article on the importance of the arts just this week with a Head of a school in Brighton pointing out that ‘Throughout history, all great civilisations have been founded on excellence in the arts, humanities, sciences and mathematics combined. A society without art as part of the education of its citizens will be unable to flourish, compete, innovate or solve problems creatively.’ I would think that his words resonate with many of us in education, and therefore it is all the more important that we place value on these subjects within our busy weekly schedules. Just this week we have seen the impact of spending time on art projects, whether moulding a beach hut from a lump of clay, selecting warm and cold colours to layer with different textures before screen printing or creating an industrial revolution inspired film through the painstaking process of stop-motion animation. The children had to plan, select materials, work through different stages with patience and precision, all the time, visualising the end result and working towards it. At times they had to adapt to a situation, change their methods or overcome a challenge, all great skills for them to experience whilst also having a great deal of fun.

Drama Drama Fun

A wide variety of these well known soft skills were also present as the children enjoyed the opportunity to create a Play in a Day. One might argue that there is no better way for children to gain confidence and self-awareness than taking to the stage. Tanya Munday, actor and teacher, says: “Kinaesthetic learning is a psychophysical experience and drama as a subject is perfectly positioned to support that learning. A world that increasingly models collaborative work practices and flexible interpersonal social skills requires individuals who are self-confident, imaginative and brave, qualities that are well met through drama.” I would agree wholeheartedly and having seen our children go through the process of starting a play from scratch in the morning through to performing for an audience in the afternoon, the elements self-confidence and bravery were particularly apparent.

As well as being vital in encouraging these much valued skills, the arts also do much for pupil’s mental health. In a TES article this week it was suggested that music can play a vital part in supporting a healthy mind and neuroscience proves this is the case as your brain is more active when singing than when doing just about anything else. SingingMaking music is a great tonic but so is listening to others performing, as was the case this week during the House Music competition. Each house produced eight different performances, starting with the Pre-Prep children singing together and finishing with the Prep children. Sandwiched between them were offerings from wind groups, guitar groups, piano quartets, small singing groups and string groups, all of whom gave their best in an effort to win 1st prize for their house. There was a great deal of laughter, plenty of energy, some familiar looking props (as anyone who came to our Summer concert last year would recognise) and a buzz of excitement across the school. In the end it was Grenville who were the worthy winners but in truth, the trophy could have gone to any of the three houses, such was the quality of their musical performances.

In a time when the arts are increasingly the sacrificial lamb within education, it is important to reflect on what we truly want for our children and I would suggest that art, music and drama are key players. Any school would certainly be all the poorer without them.

Mon 12th Feb 2018, 09:43

This week, I came across a TES article by Doug Lemov entitled ‘Teaching the art of listening in the age of me, me, me’ and it got me thinking about what it truly means to listen and to discuss. The central message in Doug’s article is that modern listening skills are somewhat compromised and in fact he makes reference to Stephen Covey’s book ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People’ when he suggests that “most people do not listen with the intent to understand. They listen with the intent to reply”. This prompted me to ponder what we as educators consider to be the characteristics of a really successful classroom discussion and ways that we can support this with the young children we teach. Clearly, the ability to engage in discussion, to analyse information and respond appropriately is a key skill for life, whether it be in lessons at school, in relationships with friends, or in reading the signs when the 3rd request to pick up dirty clothes from the bedroom floor is ignored. Doug asks if our classrooms unwittingly contribute to a culture that places insufficient value on listening, compromise and understanding, and suggests to students that the purpose of participating in a discussion is to win it – for them to be proven to have been right all along. His five steps to promoting effective classroom debate is thought-provoking and focuses on ‘giving pupils an alternative to seeing the world as my-way-or-the-highway’. What has influenced the apparent decline in the willingness to enter a debate with an open mind is certainly up for discussion, and I’m sure that we all have strong opinions as to the root causes, but what I feel is of critical importance is fostering a culture of openness in our classrooms and a mindset that “I have not yet made up my mind. I am still listening to the arguments.”

Kids want to make sense of their world and it is our job to help them, and this is where the importance of a listening culture comes in. This was brought home to me just over a week ago when we welcomed Mr Neil Parish MP, to Blundell’s Prep. Neil Parish, MPNeil took time out of his very busy schedule to spend the afternoon with us and it was fascinating to see the way that the children responded. They had prepared questions in advance, all of their own creation, and Neil responded to each one with refreshing honesty. My sense is that the children’s idea of a politician is likely to be shaped by what they see on TV or, as is more likely to be the case, what they hear from their parents, so I would hazard a guess that words such as ‘honest’ and ‘open’ would not usually be used in the same sentence as a Mrs May or a Mr Trump. However, Neil shared his opinions and, importantly, he talked openly about the moral dilemmas that he often faces and how vital it is to consider to pros and cons to every argument. Our children showed a remarkable level of political awareness, asking questions about animal testing, the local environment, Brexit and of course, the rising tension between the US and North Korea, a topic that I know plays on their minds. Neil answered all of the questions with great skill but also with a sense that life is not always black or white, yes or no, sometimes it is grey and this makes considered discussion where all views are listened to all the more important.

Mike Farley talkParents can help with this as well. This week, I encouraged my Year 6 pupils to discuss the terms of the Treaty of Versailles with their parents when I asked them to consider - what should the big three do? “Build a wall” said one child, with a very pointed reference to Mr Trump in mind! “With what?” another pupil asked. “Money”. The response - “What money?” The discussion moved on, the children digging ever deeper into cause and effect. What could that lead to? How would that work? Moving beyond an initial response to unpick the consequences of decisions is a skill that all of our children will need and we can all play a part in encouraging that.

The last 2 weeks have been full of events, with a strong focus on Academic Enrichment. If you do not follow us on Facebook or Twitter then I would encourage you to do so as there are daily updates as to what is going on. Mike FarleyThis coming week we will be welcoming over 100 grandparents to BPS, in fact on Friday afternoon we were at 114! It is going to be fun and I know how excited the children will be to share a lesson with their guests. A mountain of scones awaits!

I’ll leave you with 3 questions posed to the forty children in Years 3 to 6 who joined me and my guest, historian Mike Farley on Monday afternoon for our 2nd Enrichment session. If you could go back in time and change any event, would you? What would you do? What would happen as a result of that change? As you might imagine, we had some spectacular answers from the children including spending time with their ancestors, seeing the dinosaurs and getting hold of winning lottery numbers (ok, that may have been my one). What would you do, I wonder?

Mon 29th Jan 2018, 08:34

On Tuesday of this coming week, we will welcome Peter Bower from the South West Grid for Learning to Blundell’s Prep to talk to the children, staff and parents about ‘E-Safety’. Our calendars are packed with a huge range of different events but if there was one that I was going to highlight as being of greatest significance to all three of those groups of people, it would be this one.

The children’s commissioner for England has recently said that schools have a “bigger role” to play in preparing younger pupils for the “emotional demands” of social media, and must improve teachers’ knowledge of the impact of apps like Instagram and Snapchat on pupils’ wellbeing,. This was reported in The Times and the TES, and as you might imagine, it has drawn some interesting commentary from different quarters. I agree with the commissioner in that schools must do all that they can, but I wonder if they are ever going to be able to do enough. Schools do have an important role to play but the people who are truly accountable for ensuring that social media exposure is carefully managed are parents. Children’s mental health continues to be a high profile topic for schools to grapple with and there is no question that access to the digital community is playing a part in that. Schools must help but there is only so much that can be expected, after all, it is not the schools who are providing the devices and it is at home that these sites are being accessed. We know that children are faking their ages in order to join Instagram or Facebook, and there seems little doubt that many parents are failing to monitor the digital lives that their children are leading. We (parents) have to take more responsibility if schools are going to be able to provide effective support rather. It is difficult to get the balance right – ban all access (unlikely to be sustainable, realistic or helpful for your child), educate and trust (great in theory but is this just hoping for the best?) or some sort of middle ground alternative, which can often be difficult to maintain. Like all of our staff and parents who will be attending Peter’s meetings on Tuesday afternoon, I am hoping for some guidance.

I would never absolve schools of their responsibility in supporting children on the appropriate use of social media, and at Blundell’s Prep we incorporate this in to weekly Computing lessons and PSHEE whilst also ensuring that our ICT systems have powerful filters in place to monitor what the children are accessing. Yes, we must be better able to deal with the emotional demands but there would be less of a need to do this if children’s access to and experience of social media was better managed, and that has to be a group effort, including the social media giants who appear to pay lip service to this ever growing issue.

In the study by the children’s commissioner, mention was made of the way in which children’s sense of self-worth is being impacted on by their dependency on social media ‘likes’ and this is a genuine cause for concern.

‘The study highlighted how many children tended to judge their popularity and sense of self-worth on the number of “likes” they received for posts or pictures, especially on Instagram. “When you get 50 likes it makes you feel good because you know people think you look good in that photo,” Thomas, ten, said. “I know that people like the look of me, it makes you feel that you are kind of popular because you got a high amount of likes.”

The report also states that ‘Eleven-year-old children are starting secondary school desperate for validation through social media “likes” and comments’ and therefore as a school whose guiding role is to prepare children for their move to Secondary School, we have a crucial part to play.

Peter Bower will be running a parents’ workshop in the Prep Hall between 4.45pm and 6pm on Tuesday evening. Please do join us if you can.

Mon 15th Jan 2018, 13:43

Autumn Term 2017

I can distinctly remember listening to the local radio, hoping beyond hope that my school would be included on the list of those schools that would be closed due to the arrival of snow. Oh, how I hoped that we would have the day off, which I am sure was in stark contrast to my parents who hoped that by some miracle, the several feet of overnight snow would have somehow missed all routes to my school. They would not have to take the day off work to then deal with over-excited children intent on spending their entire day outside, only coming back in for food or when frostbite was becoming a reality. They would not have to dry endless piles of wet clothes or search for more gloves, or deal with a crying sibling who had felt the full force of a snowball to the face. Forgive my sentimental trip down memory lane but as I saw the news of the snowfall, and read the posts on social media in which friends had built snowmen and even a complete Igloo, I confess to a smidge of jealousy. Those snow days were great fun and part of me felt sad that that our BPS children were not going to have the opportunity to experience that excitement. Chapel carol serviceOf course, the practical side of me was relieved as we did have the small matter of a Carol Service to prepare for and anyone who joined us on Tuesday evening would have been pleased that the white stuff stayed away. It was a beautiful occasion with the children fighting off the coughs and colds to sing with wonderful enthusiasm. Thank you to everyone who braved the cold to join us.

As I reflect on the events of the term, I am always in awe of the capacity that our children have. They have a strong desire to involve themselves in all that is on offer and rarely does this abate, even when they are full of cold and held together only through the wonder that is Calpol. Not only do the children have an extraordinary capacity for volume of involvement but it is also the quality of their involvement that so impresses me. They set the bar high and this stems from the high expectations that the school has for them, which is then fully supported through our parent body. It is a potent combination but one that must be an integral part of a school’s DNA. We have seen this in action throughout the term, inside and outside of the classroom, and in every aspect of school life. My hope for all of our children is that they will enjoy a well-earned rest over Christmas and return in 2018 ready to embrace every challenge and opportunity that comes their way.

I will sign off for this year with some of my favourite photos from the last 2 weeks, all of which epitomise what makes our school so special.

Nativity angel Christmas lunch Chapel reading Christmas Singers Nativity Nativity Nativity angel Christmas lunch Chapel reading

Happy holidays, everyone!

Thu 14th Dec 2017, 11:30

I am sure that we can all remember back to our school days and perhaps identify someone who truly inspired us. For some people that may be a favourite teacher whilst for others it may have been an older student who acted as a role model during our formative years. I can remember playing cricket alongside the older boys and being in awe of them but I also remember the kindness that they showed me when it was my time to make a contribution to the team. Upper 6th Monitors visit to talk about Kindness and ToleranceHow powerful those moments can be should not be underestimated and this is why we are always looking for opportunities to introduce our Prep School children to older role models. This starts in our Nursery where the Year 2 children act as Playground friends, and the regular meetings between all members of our three Houses are always guaranteed to bring our oldest and youngest together. The Buddy system is greatly valued by our children as they always have someone looking out for them and the chance for all of our Year 6 children to become Prefects and lead the school creates opportunities to see positive behaviours modelled by our senior pupils. As you know, we continue to work towards becoming more closely aligned with our Senior School, and part of our motivation for doing this lies in introducing our children to positive role models from across the Blundell’s community. Over this term, we have had visits from our Upper 6th Monitors to talk about Kindness and Tolerance, and we have had A Level Geography students support our Year 4 Geography river trip. Senior students continue to help in the Monday Latin club and also in Games clubs throughout the week, and Head Boy, Jack Watt even gave other Prep Heads a guided tour of the Prep School back in October. Blundell's 1st XVThis coming week we will look to offer our support to the 1st XV who are playing Dulwich College in the final of the School’s Champions Trophy Final at the Allianz Park, home of Saracens RFC. There were a few children who suggested that I put on a fleet of coaches to take us all to the game but instead we are going to be streaming it live on Wednesday afternoon and offering support to the team, seven of whom started their rugby playing careers at the Prep School. If you would like to watch the game it will be live on the England rugby website as well as England Rugby Facebook and it will also be broadcast free on Premier Sports TV channel which can be accessed via Sky (HD - Channel 428 / SD - Channel 462). Good luck to the team!

Nativity Nativity

Christmas has most certainly arrived at Blundell’s Prep. So far we have enjoyed three nativity plays from the talented children in Reception, Year 1 and Year 2 and we look forward to the five productions this coming week. The Christmas trees are up, with the Prep School tree beautifully decorated by the Year 3 children, and the obligatory mince pies have already been enjoyed by guests to the school. The Christmas Market last weekend was as good an event as we have ever had at BPS. Christmas MarketHaving moved it to two weeks later in the term it did feel more festive and the dropping temperature and crisp skies perhaps added to that. There was something for everyone, with stall holders offering beautiful handmade decorations, artisan cheeses, therapeutic oils and much more besides, alongside the children’s stalls, which included my personal favourite, The Human Fruit Machine. Our Mamas and Papas Choir were in fine voice as always and the Boys Aloud and Girls Aloud choral groups gave beautiful performances for everyone to enjoy. There were delicious refreshments aplenty and the new FoBP BBQ, offering hearty bacon rolls, was expertly mastered by Mr Knight and Mr Gresswell. As always, the whole event was masterminded by our FoBP Committee and a whole raft of different volunteers who came together for the good of our school community and in order to raise funds for our chosen charities, YoungMinds and the Lullaby Trust. The only disappointment for many would have been the raffle draw, and for this I can only offer my apologies. I gave the box of raffle tickets an almighty mix but clearly not well enough for some disappointed children who were desperately keen to win the much coveted Smiggle pencil case. Not everyone was disappointed, as Lara walked away with the grand prize and Mrs Shelbourne picked up not one but two boxes full of goodies. NativityMy sincere thanks to Mr Horan, Mr Edwards and Mr Labdon who were kind enough to help some stranded drivers escape from the rather muddy fields. It was, in every sense, a real team effort of a day!

There is much to look forward to over the next 8 school days, including five more Christmas performances, the Festival of Carols on Friday and then our own Carol Service on Monday week. If you haven’t yet completed your parent questionnaire then please can I ask you to do that as soon as possible, as this information will be very useful to us when identifying future areas for development.

The final details of the Spring Term Calendar have been confirmed and there are a number of new things to look out for. Field tripMrs Charlesworth has arranged for three Enrichment events to take place during January and March, and these will be Science themed and delivered by members of our Senior School Science Department. More details will follow in the New Year but we hope that as many intellectually curious children as possible will come along. We will also be running an E-Safety afternoon on the 16th January in which all children from Year 1 to 6 will learn more about how to stay safe when online. In addition, there will be a Parents’ Workshop and I would encourage as many of our parents as possible to join us for what promises to be a very informative and no doubt thought provoking evening.

I look forward to seeing you during the coming week.

Mon 4th Dec 2017, 14:20

On Saturday morning, we welcomed over a hundred Under 9 hockey and rugby players to Blundell’s Prep for our annual competitions. We were treated to chilly but dry weather and everyone thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to run, pass and tackle their hearts out, over 3 hours of physical activity. Rugby playersThe visiting supporters were in fine voice and all kept the cold at bay thanks to the steady stream of coffee and cake that was kindly prepared by our outstanding catering team. It was a great morning and thoroughly enjoyed by all.

You may be aware that there have been some significant changes to the structure and regulations within junior rugby and Under 9s now play Festivals rather than Tournaments, the difference being that in a Festival there is a round-robin structure and no eventual winners. The girls’ hockey on the other hand continues to use a Tournament structure, with qualifying from a pool and progression through to a Plate or a Main competition until the eventual Final takes place. They are different structures but why is it that one governing body decides that there should be no formal winners whilst another decides that there should? You may ask, “Does it really matter?”, and in some respects the answer is probably, no it doesn’t, but it is an interesting situation and one that does raise questions about the messages that we are giving our children regarding winning and losing.

Rugby Hockey Hockey

We read comments in the national press that young people are growing up increasingly unable to deal with failure, protected from experiencing it by parents and by schools, some of which have removed just about every competitive situation. To my mind, there is a balance to be found and it concerns me that in some parts of society, we have shifted too far away from the realities of life. For the most part, children are competitive and this should not be discouraged. What is crucial is that those around them provide consistent and realistic feedback so that when things go wrong, lessons can be learnt. At times, this can be very challenging but if all competition is avoided then we are setting our children up for one almighty fall. Don’t get me wrong, I do not see the value in building competition into everything and there is a very real danger in over-emphasising the win/lose mentality, but a careful balance needs to be maintained. There are occasions when as adults, we have to step in to make the right call and on Saturday afternoon, I saw this in practice. The U9 hockey final was being contested between Plymouth and Blundell’s and after full time the sides could not be separated. After 5 minutes of extra time there was still deadlock and so we moved to Penalty Shuffles. Tension was high, the girls were anxious, the parents even more so, and as each penalty was either scored or missed, the likelihood of one child being put in a situation where their error would cause their team to lose was out of synch – the balance point had been exceeded and it was time to call a halt to proceedings. In truth, I think that there was some relief mixed with disappointment, and as the girls left the pitch those mixed emotions were clear to see. Was it right to stop the game with honours even? I think so, but I’ll leave it to you to decide.

Sadly, my ability to deal with defeat was tested to the full this weekend as I had to ensure the dreadful result in the Arsenal vs Spurs match. To make matters worse, I had a small wager on the result with Miss Roberts and I needed all of my self-restraint when handing over an excellent bottle of Sauvignon Blanc on Monday morning. Thankfully, as a Spurs fan the taste of defeat is rare so I shall recover quickly and be all the better for the experience.

Mon 20th Nov 2017, 08:06

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