☰ Ready for Spring . .

Ready for Spring . .

Posted on: March 7th 2011

Since writing my last blog things have been even busier than usual. The period between mid November and mid February is always the most tiring and potentially stressful. Why? It’s largely down to the somewhat prehistoric system London senior schools use to select children at 11+. Parents – understandably – get incredibly anxious about their children making it through a series of exams sat in January. I have four primary challenges: first, to ensure our children continue to enjoy school and not to let any stress affect them; second, to help parents navigate the system and offer reassurance (big part of my job!); third, to help and support teachers; and fourth, and most importantly, to ensure the success we have is a by-product of what we do as I couldn’t be responsible for a school that simply crammed children with endless practice papers over a two year period. I’m pleased to say that our results this year have been outstanding. We are going to write a bit more about this in the next newsletter, but I can tell you that our children received offers from Aldenham, Belmont, Channing, Christ's Hospital, City of London Boys, City of London Girls, Highgate, Northbridge and UCS, and five of the offers were for scholarships. This is very impressive as fewer and fewer schools offer scholarships these days. So huge congratulations all round – our pupils have really excelled themselves and deserve a big pat on the back.It hasn’t all been about secondary schools though – I’ve enjoyed my assemblies over the past month or two. My recent talks with older children have been dominated by the uprising in North Africa and the Middle East. Our children grow up in an environment where they recognise they have a part to play in their country; they genuinely feel empowered and know that anything is possible. But I think it’s hard for them to fully understand the plight of the majority in countries such as Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. I was a teenager when the Berlin Wall fell and I remember the feeling of hope and excitement that was all around. I guess I’ve always believed democracy is the best way to empower a nation’s people. It is also the best way to reduce poverty, improve health and education. I’ll be watching with baited breath to see what happens next… I’ve also continued to talk philosophy with our younger pupils. I recently asked them if they thought it okay to pop into a newsagent, pick up a copy of the Times newspaper and then read it (without paying I should add). By and large they didn’t have a problem with this. I then asked whether I could read it just outside the door of the shop and then return it back to the shelf. That, they thought, was not acceptable. I like these debates to get their minds thinking about right and wrong and how sometimes the line between the two doesn’t seem entirely clear. I have also started to read them the most fantastic book called Adventures of the Little Wooden Horse. You have never seen a group of 70 children so mesmerised. The book was written in 1938 by Ursula Moray Williams. It’s about love, loyalty, adventure, friendship and so much more. Last week I had assembly on Wednesday at 8.45am and the children insisted I take a second one at 1pm as they wanted another chapter. Some of the pastoral care initiatives we put in place a few months ago are paying significant dividends. Our top two years have a weekly visit to the local soup kitchen and it’s really good for them and the school to be helping in our local community. I say this continually, but our children are very fortunate and with that comes a responsibility to help others. I strongly believe this. I’m pleased to say that the new “merit mark” system for children is working well. We have designed the system to ensure children are individually recognised, but because merit marks are converted into house points, the children fully understand they can help their team too.Each teacher at NHS has overall responsibility for at least one subject. They develop the curriculum, monitor the quality of teaching and make sure children make the progress in the way we would expect. During the last week our teachers have been heavily involved in “work scrutiny”. It’s a scary term, but it basically involves analysing pupils work against a set criteria; this is done for all year groups and the school’s senior management team will evaluate the final results. I was fortunate to be invited to attend the annual Richard Dimbleby lecture a few weeks ago. Michael Morpurgo was the star attraction and spoke on the rights of children. A very interesting and moving talk. But I couldn’t help feeling that the issue of children and education is one that suffers from a great deal of idealism but often not enough pragmatism. A little more autonomy for schools, a little less testing in schools and a greater emphasis on a broad curriculum is what’s needed. Let me explain. More autonomy gives schools greater freedom over staff (can make staff more accountable) and the curriculum (develop a curriculum more related to your circumstances). Less testing – particularly in junior schools – will encourage schools not to just teach to league table requirements (leads to a very narrow curriculum). A broad curriculum will spark interest and imagination in children; it will also make school a happy place where they want to be.And finally, I want to say a big well done to our various sports teams. The school chess team continues to go from strength to strength, winning just about all their fixtures this year. They came second in the North London Chess Championship last week, which was very impressive if you consider that schools such as North London Collegiate, Highgate and UCS took part. The school football team, meanwhile, recently missed out on qualifying for the national ISA football championship by one goal. Devastating. And our U11s netball team beat Salcombe last Friday, whilst our U9s drew.

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