Headmaster's Blog

Below are topical and interesting articles in our weekly newsletters, written by our Headmaster, Ben Evans:

10th March 2017

It was while sitting in the audience of this week’s Rush Hour Concert, which had a very full and varied list of performers, that my mind wandered on to the value of music in education and how the skills required are so easily transferred to other areas of children’s learning. The sheer confidence of the children was incredible. Watching those who had only just started to have lessons perform their thirty seconds worth of newly learned notes to a packed hall was incredibly impressive. Likewise, listening to pupils working toward the highest grades perform with skill, accuracy and accomplishment was equally a delight and rewarding. The benefits of a musical education are many and well documented. Studies have shown that musical training develops the left side of the brain known to be involved with processing language and can actually wire the brain’s circuits in specific ways. There is also a link between music and spatial intelligence which is the ability to perceive the world accurately and to form mental pictures of things. This kind of intelligence is critical to the sort of thinking necessary for everything from solving advanced mathematics problems to being able to pack a book-bag with everything that will be needed for the day. I continue to be amazed by our pupils’ progress which is evident from one rush hour concert to the next, not only in their musical ability but in their confidence, resilience and willingness to be involved and take risks. 

20th January 2017

‘Private schools top class for toughening up children’ (Daily Telegraph) ran the headline in a clipping I was given this week. As with all headlines, and even in a broadsheet, it was a little sensationalist but obviously of interest! The content of the article, based around the results of a study on mental toughness in independent schools, came as no surprise but was welcome reading. The study involved 9,000 children from 58 state and private schools who took psychometric tests which found the independently educated pupils had good attainment, wellbeing and behaviour and were also more resilient, better at dealing with setbacks and disappointments and therefore more open and receptive to learning as a result. It has been these areas and skills that we, as a school, have been tackling over the past few years. Our behaviours for learning and guiding principles have been designed to ensure that Edge Grove pupils are able to understand how they learn best and what steps they can independently take to ensure they make the best progress for them. They are willing to take risks and have a go, be fully involved in their learning and approach school with curiosity and enjoyment. Activities such as Forest School, the carefully chosen curriculums, the Edge Grove Baccalaureate and the myriad opportunities in sport, music, art and drama all ensure that our children develop their resilience, determination to succeed despite any difficulties they encounter and a tremendous sense of enjoyment and esprit de corps. So we certainly ‘toughen up’ children but I would rather express this differently - we allow children the chance to develop naturally, to find their strengths and to encourage them to embrace challenge and learn from their mistakes.

13th January 2017

In the world of education there are many fads and fleeting fancies, initiatives that come and go with the whims of politicians, changing governments and other influences. It must be the duty of schools to understand what is in the best interests of their pupils and to fully embed those practices which are proven to enhance academic attainment and achievement as well as ensure children enjoy a creative and exciting school experience. One important such initiative of recent years is Forest School and you will now be hard put to find a school that does not offer this provision these days. The advantages of total immersion in the outdoors, exploring nature and being free to investigate independently are well documented. However, for many schools, this facility may be run by unqualified practitioners with little thought, planning or knowledge beyond a small log circle and playing in the mud. We introduced our Forest School over four years ago when it was not so commonplace because we wanted to extend and combine the use of our amazing outdoor environment with the continuing drive for greater academic rigour and the acquisition of skills such as creativity, curiosity, resilience along with greater independence. From small beginnings, it has grown both in scale, in the number of year groups taking part and in the breadth of activities that are covered. Mrs Doughty’s mantra of; “There’s no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong type of clothes,” ensures that this is not just a fair weather activity but that children enjoy Forest School whatever the conditions, with parents confident that all risks have been thoroughly assessed and that the pupils will have even greater fun jumping in puddles, playing with ice or running around in snow (if they are lucky!). A childhood as it should be with the added benefit of a carefully planned curriculum ensuring exciting learning opportunities and purposeful assessment of pupil progress at all times. It is no surprise that both ISI and Ofsted inspectors have judged our Forest School provision as an outstanding feature of the school promoting high academic achievement. We are now in a position to develop it further and will be incorporating our mindfulness teaching into the sessions, further pushing the boundaries of innovation. 

18th November 2016

I came across an article this week stating that apps can teach children as well as teachers can … this was something, as you can imagine, that grabbed my attention. The article went on to say that researchers had found that children learn just as much from interactive media, such as iPad or smartphone apps, as they do from human face-to-face interaction. No statistical differences had been found between children who learnt from an iPad and those being taught in person with an instructor. An interesting study but one to be treated with caution. Whilst we use digital technology throughout the school to great effect, richly enhancing pupil’s learning across the curriculum, we will continue to employ teachers too! Education is and has to continue to be much more than just statistics. We judge schools on exam results and regularly rank children of all ages purely on their ability to pass exams but we must be careful not to allow this to be the sole criteria upon which we quantify and value our children’s learning and journey through school. Education should mean and encompass far more than this. Anthony Seldon is pushing for wellbeing in schools to be measured and included in the dreaded league tables and he probably has a good point. This week, I attended the funeral, and read the eulogy of my former Headmaster, Tony Connett. A school leader for 35 years, he was most definitely old school and remained true to one of his favourite Shakespearean quotes, ‘This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.’ He believed, as do I, that a fundamental role of all prep schools, alongside building strong academic foundations, was to instil good manners, social skills and a strong moral compass; guiding and supporting children to understand and make the right decisions, to be thoughtful, kind and honest. This is very much part of an Edge Grove education, together with ensuring that children are happy and enthusiastic learners too. All of which cannot be achieved through an app! 

11th November 2016

It has been reported this week, following the publishing of a study, that too many schools are not encouraging their pupils to be confident speakers and have not integrated oracy into their curriculums. The benefits of pupils speaking confidently are well documented and form one of the three important strands of the Independent Curriculum which we follow; discovery, application and communication. It is essential for pupils to be able to communicate effectively and to be able to explain their thoughts and understanding orally. The ability to do this well and with mastery comes with practice, encouragement and through following a curriculum in which these skills are embedded. The evidence of the link between oracy and higher attainment is well established and we know that children who are taught the art of reasoned discussion significantly increase their attainment in the core subjects such as maths and science as well as nonverbal reasoning tests. At Edge Grove, we encourage our children to discuss, debate and explain. This allows us to assess their progress and understanding and to develop their oracy. The creative arts further enhance the children’s opportunities to develop their confidence and communication skills; this was certainly evident last night and whenever I have the pleasure of watching our pupils perform, be it on the stage or giving presentations in class. We mustn’t under estimate the importance of good oracy and how this impacts on children’s learning and progress. Please continue to encourage healthy discussion and debate at home around your dining tables too! 

4th November 2016

I read with interest this week an article suggesting that teachers need to make children ‘cry intellectually’ once a week. I sense you reeling in horror at this and perhaps these are not a good choice of words! I do agree with the sentiment, however, and it is essential that we push our pupils to achieve their best and at times, this may be uncomfortable; but children do enjoy a challenge as much as the feelings of success when they have achieved it. We all know as adults that whenever we attempt to become a little fitter (more of that later) or learn new skills, it is a tough process with a mix of sweat, repetition, frustration and hopefully, more than the occasional moment of fun. It is no different for our children - they want to understand a problem or to get the answer right, however difficult and to keep on getting them right. In schools such as ours, teachers know their pupils well (their interests, abilities and personalities) and understand how far they can be pushed. We won’t make them cry but with encouragement and support we should be making them think, to wobble a little and to have the confidence and enthusiasm to believe they can do it. Difficulty is not something to be scared of but to embrace - it comes back to an essential growth mindset culture and that small but important word, ‘yet.’