HT blog 2018.4

This blog has been written by Mrs Harman, our School Manager.

I’m not a winter person. I do not enjoy the short days, the grey skies, the cold, wind or rain. I yearn for the summer, long days, sunshine and hopefully warmth. I always feel that we are turning the corner when the 6 Nations rugby tournament begins. This is followed by Cheltenham, the Boat Race, the Grand National and the London Marathon. After these iconic events have taken place I think that spring has fully arrived and there is the summer to look forward to. These months also have their own unique British events to enjoy.

However others will have a different perspective on this time of year. Many of our students will be revising and preparing for the public exams which start on the 14th May, although some will have already have completed the practical aspects.

Our exams staff have been preparing for months, our valued team of 25 plus invigilators are ready to go and the school day is rearranged to accommodate the exams. This period in the school calendar in a logistical trial but the exams always run smoothly as they are so important to our students.

The following six weeks maybe stressful but with support from home and school they will all strive to achieve their very best. They will discover that their perseverance and resilience will have been worth the effort.  The hours of effective revision which relies on effective learning and remembering, will pay off. They can then look forward to the long summer ahead and enjoy it before embarking on the next stage of their lives – 6th form, college, apprenticeship, university or the world of work.

We all wish our students every success and look forward to sharing and celebrating their results in August. Over the summer they can relax perhaps watching Wimbledon, travelling, or attending ‘Standon Calling’

Good luck to everyone.

HT blog 2018.3

This time, Assistant Headteacher Yvonne Adshead’s blog is on the subject of revision.

As we return to school for the final term of this academic year, my thoughts naturally turn to the members of Years 11 and 13 for whom this will be their final term as members of the Simon Balle community. Hopefully most of you will have enjoyed a nice break over Easter, whilst for these two year groups and Year 10 they will have spent their time revising in preparation for their forthcoming examinations.

During March two colleagues and I attended a conference hosted by ResearchEd and Sandringham School where we considered the latest research on revision techniques. The research clearly shows that an individual’s study focus is significantly enhanced by doing the right thing, at the right time, and in the right manner, so I thought this would be an opportune time to share our learning from the conference with students and parents.

So what does the research say?

Firstly it suggests that some of the traditional study techniques such as highlighting, underlining, re-reading, the use of mnemonics and summarizing may be useful at the start of the revision process but will have limited impact on retention and recall of information unless they are followed by more practical strategies. What works is creating flashcards that do not contain too much information followed by regular low-stakes quizzing to promote retrieval of the information.  The quizzes work best when they are spaced out and returned to over a few weeks rather than topics being blocked where the student moves from one topic to the next without returning to it. This interleaving of topics allows students time to forget knowledge and then gives them the opportunity to practice recalling the information.  Students should then complete past papers and questions using mark schemes to check their learning as these will give instant feedback on their performance.

So what can parents do to encourage students to develop these learning techniques from a young age so that they are familiar with them when the time comes for them to embark on their examinations?

Parents when reading with or listening to their son or daughter read should encourage them to elaborate on concepts, for example by asking ‘why?’ questions, and encourage them to use self-explanation in order to further their understanding of a subject and improve their knowledge retention.

All that remains is for me to wish our students every success with their forthcoming examinations and I look forward to seeing them on the results days when I know they will receive the results that reflect their hard work, resilience and determination.

 

HT blog 2018.2

Mrs Saunders muses on the character of spring – lucky we didn’t put this post up last week as originally planned!

Spring is coming! This term is commonly known as the “Spring Term” for English schools, a term I have often struggled with as we face the cold blasts of winter and get drenched with heavy rain (particularly last week!) Yet, spring is coming; you can see it in nature and the fact that the days are getting brighter for longer. With only a few weeks until Easter and with the clocks springing forward on March 25th, we shall soon be talking of the “Summer Term” and its usual rituals.

The image of the spring tree is one we frequently use in education and refer to its roots and shoots as our mission and goal. Over the past few months I have been thinking, reading and reflecting on our journey as a school as to how the school has evolved since taking on Headship. With three fairly new teachers in local schools perhaps this is inevitable!

Whilst the world (including that of education) has changed significantly since 1997, mankind has fundamentally not. Our purpose is simply to prepare our young people for the world that they encounter both now and in the future. They need the skills, knowledge and wisdom that will inform decisions and ensure that they achieve well academically. They need to know how to live well together and to treat others with respect and dignity. They need to have high hopes and to be positive. Without these fundamentals, the roots, they will not flourish and grow. So this then is our preoccupation for all students: as a school we continuously work on the culture that is daily experienced, the values that are taught and modeled and ensure that opportunities are created.

And the wonderful thing about working with young people, whether the youngest or oldest, is that those shoots are visible on a daily basis. Whether it is the “light bulb” moment in a class, a piece of work perhaps from a child who struggles, our year 2 musicians playing their cellos or violins, sports excellence or a group’s drama performance, it can be seen.

We speak rarely of the importance of trees and yet spend a few minutes using google and you are instantly reminded. From the ecological to the spiritual, from the physical to the practical, trees should be valued and appreciated. Let’s look forward to the beauty of the spring and continue with our work of “human flourishing”.

HTblog 2018.1

This month Deputy Head Mike Moss discusses ‘Fake News’

Instead of starting the 2018 blogs by talking about news year resolutions I have been reflecting on the many events of 2017. In particular, the changing world of politics and the first year of Donald Trump in the White House. I remember doing an assembly to all students when Trump first took office outlining his manifesto and the hopes and fears of the American people. He has certainly made politics interesting and made more students talk about political issues!

One key term Trump has brought into the mainstream is ‘fake news’. Our students are bombarded with information via the internet and in the media which they cannot always trust. Many think this happens in America but it is certainly prevalent worldwide. People accessing key headlines through tweets etc may find that the truth is distorted or that significant parts have been exaggerated. I believe schools and the education system is vital in addressing this area. We have a duty to educate students not to accept statements at face value. We need to develop the skills of questioning, research, curiosity and independent thinking.

It is lovely when I listen to students debating topics using research and evidence. This shows the ability to understand, question bias and contextualise the reason for views. There is no problem with reading tweets, so long as they then read around the subject area in order to develop their opinions. Indeed, this fits in with our ethos and values in ‘Creating Tomorrows Citizens Today’.

I am sure 2018 is going to be a great year and wish health and happiness to all!

HT blog 2017.7

This time we turn to Primary Phase Leader Ruth Oakenfull for her thoughts on values.

 

It is the most magical time of the year where families come together, friends from near and far share food and drink and long overdue news and children are happy and excited. Is there a better place to work than in a primary school at Christmas time? I doubt it.

On 1st December, with the start of advent, we welcomed the Kindness Elves into the Larch Centre. They appeared in each classroom and were sent by Father Christmas to spread kindness through the school. This links so well with the values we teach the children as the elves recognise the kindness they see from the children, they share some kindness and suggest alternative ways that the children could show kindness in school whilst keeping the magic of Christmas in mind.

Last week the elves were kind and helped us on our search for Father Christmas who crash landed in the school grounds and was missing for a whole week. Each day we arrived at school to find clues to prove he was still on the school site- such as a letter from Mrs Claus that proved he hadn’t returned to the North Pole, CCTV images of Father Christmas and Rudolph in the school woods, eaten lasagne after the children left him a portion, a letter from him, missing carrots from Lisa’s kitchen, a voice recording and even evidence in the forest. (You may want to know a little more about this, so please see the primary showcase for more information). Luckily he is safely back in the North Pole now!

It amazed us, yet I’m not sure why, that the children could associate every action with the values that we teach. For example, the morning that we realised all of Lisa’s carrots had been taken, the children stated, “it wasn’t very respectful of Rudolph to take something without asking”. “He wasn’t being thoughtful of the children because he took the vegetables for our lunch”, “He was dishonest”. The comments they made reinforce the importance of teaching these explicitly so they understand why they make not only our school, but our wider community a better place.

At Simon Balle, we create tomorrow’s citizens today so it is important that from an early age the children are taught a range of values to enable them to make the right choices about how to be a good friend.

This last couple of weeks has been tough on a personal level after learning the news of my grandma passing. But something it has made me reflect upon is the importance of why these ‘traditional’ values are so important for the goodness of the world. My grandma was one of the world’s good people; she was kind, generous and thoughtful of others. The values that we instil in the children cost us nothing but mean so much. It has emphasised just how important it is to raise our children knowing the importance of these. As the world loses one, it gains an abundance of children who are society’s next parents and grandparents.

The Kindness Elves will soon be returning to the North Pole, but the kindness will never leave. I wish you all a very merry Christmas, full of kindness and joy.

HT blog 2017.6

The blog this time is written by the newest member of SLT, Assistant Head Mr Pooley, and focuses on our ability to impact our own wellbeing

 

I am writing this blog after a fun-packed family half term. It was refreshing to spend time with my family, enjoy days out and watch my two young sons growing up fast. Taking time to connect and be active as a family is an important aspect of improving wellbeing. It got me thinking of the people and experiences that have impacted me and how thankful I am to be have been given so many opportunities throughout my life.

As a student I attended The Bishop’s Stortford High School and, similarly to our students, I was given many opportunities outside of the classroom. We are blessed as a school to have such a wide variety of extra-curricular opportunities and my advice to our students is take them, do not wait and regret not getting involved. This term there are sports clubs / fixtures, music events, house plays and many more activities to get involved in.

Before half term I ran a session for new staff on the ‘Five ways to wellbeing’ and we focused on the theme of giving, and how showing gratitude can increase your happiness. How often do we show gratitude? I started to reflect upon the support I have received in my new role this term, both at home and from colleagues at school. Simon Balle really does have a fantastic community spirit and people are so supportive of one another. It is important all of us take time to show appreciation to people that have influenced us or helped us.

With the increased pressure on our students it is important to get the balance right and ensure they are given the right support both at home and in school. Be proactive in improving your own wellbeing and focus on the five strands:

 

Connect with others

Give

Be Active

Take Notice

Keep Learning

 

My final message to you all (that I need to remind myself of when busy at work), is to make time to be active and connect by spending precious time with family and friends.

HT blog 2017.5

Mrs Saunders gets the blog ball rolling this academic year with more on her thoughts on ‘home’.

I think this is an excellent opportunity to share with a wider audience those thoughts and messages I have shared with students, staff, Governors and our visitors on Open Day.

So, the thing that kept coming back to me all over the summer was the importance of a good home. I watched and heard on the news many stories about the partition of India and how so many people were immediately displaced back in 1947. Tales of how now elderly folk, although not having returned, spoke of “home” despite living in the UK for many years. I heard the phrase-“Home is where you belong” and this got me thinking!

A student had emailed me in the summer term (they do!) thanking me for the wonderful school and opportunities Simon Balle gives to her and her friends. She spoke of “more than a school, a home”.  And indeed it is the deep sense of community, respect, commitment and family we daily endeavor to foster.

One of our younger children thanked me for “always speaking with her when I visited her class, despite being so busy and amazing running the whole school”.

Our children tell us that school is a safe place and they spend many hours here, often more than at home! They like the routines we establish, the rules we have, the values we promote and the relationships we form. This is part of our success as a school.

Already this term we have had some important “family” events which will lay those important foundations and create shared memories for the rest of this academic year. The “Open Morning” was a huge success and we have received so many emails not just from the day but from the guided tours from students this past week.

This was followed by the “School Fun Run” where we all watched our youngest children enjoying the festival environment alongside the most senior students. As I write, our second group of year 7s are at Phasel’s Wood camping and Emily Robinson and her team of staff could not speak highly enough of the first group and again that deep sense of community.

Earlier this week was our first ever Harvest Festival at All Saints Church. Our primary-aged children presented gifts and sung to their parents, prepared by Nancy Iles and Rachel Southall. Parents also enjoyed hearing senior students performing musical interludes.

These events are so important, special family times. However everyone knows it is the day to day which is equally important.That sense of identity and community needs to be lived out in every classroom, every lesson and every conversation.

And that reminds me- today is the “Golden Lunch” at Hertford Baptist Church for local senior citizens… beliefs in action!

HT blog 2017.4

Our blog series returns once more to Mrs Saunders – who writes of springtime and restlessness….

Everywhere you look, you are reminded of Spring! Not summer- yet- but Spring. As I write it is the “Spring Bank Holiday”, not Whitsun anymore (actually it is next Sunday), so Spring. Despite travelling a lot, both in the UK and farther afield, I am always reminded of how even in Hertfordshire you can feel as if you are “in the middle of rural England”. We are so fortunate to have so many green spaces, woods and countryside around us. Even at Simon Balle our campus should be seen as a “gift”. Indeed after the school was built in 1956, it appeared in an architectural magazine in an article titled “A glass palace set in parkland- a new school, Simon Balle”.

Schools can often be bleak places and I am reminded of the Victorian schools in London, often with high gates and a few concrete yards. It is therefore a pleasure to see how much our students of all ages enjoy our grounds; the numerous sporting activities, welly walks with reception children and the wonderful creative play areas in our Larch Centre. This is why this “birthday” year we are using all funds raised to enhance theses outdoor areas. Indeed we are often reminded of the link between wellbeing and being outdoors.

I have recently got a “magic” watch which seems to tell me everything- when I need to move, how many steps I have taken, my heart beat, how long my drive to Hertford will take each morning, and even when I go wrong on my orienteering course. On the plus side, it is keeping me even more active. I was once described as a “restless soul” both in terms of never sitting still and always thinking about something. A blessing and a curse! However some degree of restlessness is what we want for all of our students. We need them to leave their “digital devices” and go out and value the countryside, to have new ideas and to be creative.

I am writing this as I look out over Buckinghamshire fields; the Jacob sheep are outside my window and from the other side of the house I can see a beautiful meadow of wild flowers. Bliss- and I even have wi-fi!

HT blog 2017.3

This time the blog is written by Assistant Headteacher Yvonne Adshead……

 

First Impressions – Lasting Impressions

I am writing this blog as we approach the end of the Easter holidays. During the break I have been fortunate enough to spend time in Barbados where my son has been playing cricket. This was my first time in the Caribbean and had it not been for my son, probably somewhere we would not have considered for a holiday. I am in no doubt now that we will return one day as our lasting impression of the people, the culture, the sea and beaches and of course the food and drink is so favourable.
HT blog YAMy first impression of Barbados was formed during the drive from the airport to the hotel. It appeared to be of an island of extremes – extreme poverty and extreme affluence, but I deliberately listed the people first in my lasting impressions earlier as they are, as we approach the end of our trip, my strongest memories. Throughout my stay I was privileged to meet many locals, usually at the cricket grounds, who gave me a real insight into the culture. The Bajan people were so generous with their hospitality and their time and, as is often the case, those who had the least were frequently the most generous. To get to the cricket grounds everyone took the “Reggae” buses, an experience not for the faint hearted. I recall one particular occasion, but there were others very similar, when we asked a gentleman if he could advise us where to catch the next bus. Rather than telling us how to get there he immediately walked us across town, a good 15 minute walk, to the next bus terminal. On the way we chatted to him about his work and family. He said he had just finished a 12 hour shift and was on his way home. I assumed he needed to catch a bus from the terminal but when we reached our destination he said that he needed to catch a different bus from the terminal that was 20 minutes in the opposite direction to the one he had just walked with us. We were embarrassed and yet so grateful that he had walked so far out of his way that we offered to get him a taxi home. He insisted it was “no problem” and set off in the opposite direction. We met so many people during our stay who were exactly the same and these first impressions of the Bajan people have left a lasting impression on me.

I later began to reflect further on the whole notion of the importance of first impressions. What are the first impressions people have of Simon Balle as they drive in to the carpark, as they enter reception, as they meet the staff and students and see our learning environment? This trip has reminded me so much of the importance of first impressions and how they become part of our lasting impressions of someone or somewhere. So what will this mean for me this term? I am going to make a conscious effort to find time to talk with our visitors, new parents and students, at the Year 7 intake events and the Year 12 Induction days, to find out what their first impressions are of our school. I also want to speak to those who are shortly to embark on employment, apprenticeships, and university courses about how important it is to make the right first impression as this is when so many judgements are formed and it is important to ensure that the first and lasting impressions are positive and the right impression that you want to create.

HT blog 2017.2

This time the blog returns to Alison Saunders.  She writes (during half term) about the benefits of wellbeing and the importance of sleep:

 

So it is half term; half way through this academic year. Of course this whole notion is one obviously only associated with school children, teachers and parents. Not people with “real jobs” or so they say. However working in a school is intense and sometimes I wish we as teachers, worked less hours a week and had less holidays. I know this is not a popular thought! However here I am on half term and enjoying the change of pace. In fact, my husband was most fortunate again to be awarded a scholarship to return to Los Angeles to study, so I am in warmer climes working and sightseeing.

AJS2I have always been naturally curious, some say nosey! Not the curiosity that wants to know how things work and this then tends to involve a lot of dismantling items. (My mother in law tells me that was my husband as a child and this led to all sorts of incidents)! No, I am more of the books, travel and outdoors type. So half term is an ideal way to satisfy this curiosity albeit at home or away.   And so we talk about re-charging our batteries. Wellbeing is on everyone’s lips and you can imagine there is a large industry associated with this here in California, from juice and whole food bars to gyms, and yoga tights (yes, all very casual dress). However what delights in being able to swim in the sea, ski in the mountains and trek in the desert, all in one state, at the same time of year!

Lucy Parsons, the author of “The ten step guide to acing every exam you ever take” writes about how wellbeing is key when taking exams. She speaks of students needing a “strong foundation”:

  • A decent amount of sleep every night
  • Nutritious food
  • Regular exercise
  • Time to relax and re-charge

 

She says:

I’ve heard of students falling asleep at 2am with the television on in their bedrooms and waking up a handful of hours later with the television still on. I’ve heard of Year 10 pupils who never get more than six hours sleep in a night. What makes me incredibly sad is that these teachers, who pour their hearts and souls into helping these children get the grades they’re predicted, are fighting a losing battle.

I would suggest that we start to educate students about the importance of sleep, how much they should be getting and how to cultivate healthy sleep habits. However, young people can only do so much without the support of their parents. So, schools should be setting clear expectations about what a healthy lifestyle looks like outside school, in order to support the learning that goes on inside school.”

Wellbeing is not something that others do to you- we emphasise in school that it is about taking responsibility for yourself. Young people however need good role models; they need parents and teachers who not only take those four things seriously but also can explain why they are so important to adhere to, for a happy successful healthy life.

Indeed, life for so many people is stressful and challenging. However, we cannot avoid stress nor should we choose the easy way. It is how we cope with life and enjoy it, which makes the difference. Be curious, keep learning, follow your passion, eat well and get good sleep. Hopefully I am now re-charged and ready for the time ahead!