Monthly Archives: September 2013

The homework dilemma

I was recently interviewed for a piece in the Independent on Sunday about whether single sex schools were still needed in the 21st century.  As a Headmistress of an all girls boarding school, clearly my answer was affirmative, and I enjoyed sharing my thoughts as to why this was so, but it did clarify my thinking on what the benefits of full boarding were.

As I travel overseas to wax lyrical about the benefits that all children gain in such an establishment, I read an article in the newspapers about the dilemma faced by many parents surrounding homework.

The government has recommended that an 11 year old should be completing 90 mins homework a day and this should increase to 150 mins a day when a student reaches 15 / 16 years old.

Professor Sue Hallam from the Institute of Education has completed much research surrounding the topic of homework and feels that there is an undue amount of pressure placed on the relationship between parent and student at homework time.  She talks about the gulf between teaching and learning of pupils and their parents, which can often confuse the learner, despite all good intentions from their parent teacher.

Many a parent would acknowledge the difficulties at this time and I suspect would do anything to overcome these problems.

In a full boarding school however, my staff and I see none of these problems.  We are in the privileged position to be able to support our pupils learning both inside and outside of the classroom.  My professional teaching staff have, as part of their duties, to take prep ( homework) duties several times a term, so that we may provide the help and extra learning that each individual pupil may need.  The girls have prep after supper, where they are expected to go to their classrooms and complete their set work, be it consolidation, extension, learning or research for their next lesson.  It is the role of my boarding staff to continue to support the girls in their learning as they are preparing for bed, be that a simple discussion about their lessons or a full blown debate about ethical issues that we discussed during an RS lesson during the day.

Living on site enables us to make the most out of the precious time that we all have, and importantly, travel time is kept to a minimum, which means that the extra time that is gained can be put to good use.    The clubs and extra-curricular activities dovetail perfectly into our busy day, allowing our girls to make the most out of the challenges that face them each day.

So, at the end of every day, we have achieved an air of calm in the boarding areas, with fulfilled girls both academically and extra-curricularly, but also relaxed parents who trust and believe in what a full boarding school can offer.  In my opinion, a win win for all concerned and surely one of the key strengths of a boarding school.

‘Bravo’ to no Beauty Pageants in France!

The newspapers reported this week that a British family was opposed to the French ruling that there would be no more beauty pageants held in France for children.  The French government have threatened organisers who flout the ruling with two years in prison and fines of up to £25,000 in measures brought in to tackle premature sexualisation.

The British family in question have six of their own children ranging from 3 to 13 in age and appeared to have entered all of them – boys and girls -into such beauty competitions. Between them, they had won 36 crowns and tiaras and 60 sashes, which I understand is an impressive achievement for the time that the family have been competing.  The parents don’t seem to understand, or agree, with the French ruling.

How do we as parents and educators feel about this ruling?  For me, I applaud the measures that the French government have taken on every level.  This strong and decisive stand against premature sexualisation and an unhealthy obsession with image is one that I believe we should be aiming for in the UK.

With the increase in children suffering from eating related issues, with the rise in the pressure felt by young people to look a certain way because of the constant bombardment from the media, surely this type of ‘beauty’ competition is a reinforcement of all of the negative connotations pertaining to body image?  I believe that we should instead be encouraging our children to take up a sport and channel their energies into another direction, be that music, drama, dance, sport, reading.

I hear many of you chuntering about this ideological desire, but surely the British media could support our country and its young people in a positive way?  Following our amazing Olympic summer of 2012, we were promised the games would provide a sporting legacy for our young people. Now is an ideal time to encourage that promised greater sporting participation for our young people and promote healthy and positive activity.

Compare the sight of children with spray-tans, false nails, false eyelashes and ringleted hairpieces to children splasing around in a pool or zooming around on bikes and could any sensible adult really believe that the former is preferable?

My own feeling is clear: positive focus on the old-fashioned values of exercise, teamwork and fresh air hold much more value than the sinister pageant world of fake tans and nails for children and its twisted values.

Charity Commission Ruling

I am delighted to learn today  that Independent Schools and their trustees have been once again allowed to make their own way when it comes to offering means tested  bursaries.

However, I am disappointed  to read how the press are reporting on the issue.  It is frustrating to read  reports that suggest that the only reason that schools such as mine offered means-tested bursaries was as a box ticking exercise.

Many great schools have been offering bursaries for all of the right reasons long before Dame Suzi Leather was ever on the scene at the helm of the Charity Commission, and it is, for many of us, the embodiment of our school’s fundamental ethos that we offer help to bright pupils whose parents would never be able to finance a private education without support.  At my own school, we offer bursaries to those girls who would most benefit from the kind of education we offer.  Many of these young women have gone on to great things, and in return, are only too willing to support others as a result of the education they have been afforded.

To say that we should be offering our facilities to local schools and clubs is also insulting. Again, many of us do this, not because we are told to, but because is the right thing to do.  For example, at Heathfield, we are in the privileged position of having a wonderful swimming pool.  This pool is not used by the school all of the time, so we are delighted to welcome several other primary schools and a school for the disabled from the local area to use our facilities.  We do this because it is the right thing to do.

We are also thrilled to have strong links with a local maintained school in Windsor.  Here we have shared teachers, which has certainly enriched the educational experience of our own girls and staff.  We regularly hold seminars on a range of different subject from History of Art, and memory skills to Science.  It is our pleasure to invite all of our local schools to send pupils from their own establishments to join with us and hear what our amazing lecturers have to say.

I believe that everyone in education should be shouting about education.  I believe that if my school has the ability to share in our joy of learning with others, this is what we should be doing.  At Heathfield, we will continue to make every effort  to continue to reach out to others, despite the very recent changes in  guidelines. In fact, we are planning to do even more to help children from less privileged backgrounds.

Peppa Pig

As a mother of three young children, I do as much as I can to keep them occupied and stimulated.  However, there comes a point in most days when dinner is on, the children are tired and hungry and need a different type of activity.  This is when the frazzled mother turns to the television for support!

“What would you like to watch, darlings?” “Peppa Pig” is the resounding reply.  And there it is, peace.  Three little faces transfixed by the electronic box in the living room.

But do you really know what they are watching and are you, as a parent, happy about it?  Yesterday evening, I had the pleasure (?) of watching the episode about ‘Princess Peppa’. During this particular episode, the main theme was that Princess Peppa was most keen to spend her time looking at herself in the mirror to make sure that she was beautiful.

What messages are we sending our children?  Do we not think that there is enough pressure on how we look, the colour of our skin, the size of our waist, the style of our shoes?  These subliminal messages about ‘how beauty should look’ are all too much and too soon for children.  I am all too aware of the pressures on teenagers regarding their body image (which is the making of several other blogs), but when are we going to stop and think about what potential damage we are doing? Surely, a better message to be delivered would have been that beauty is not how you look, but the person that you are?

In the same episode, Peppa then goes on to wake up her sleeping brother in the bunk below, because she felt that he should have been listening to Daddy pig’s story.  Why didn’t she get reprimanded for such unkind behaviour?  I know many a parent would go crazy if the elder sibling had woken up the younger child out of sheer selfishness.

I have to say that I am disappointed and somewhat concerned about these messages being delivered to young children through such innocent means.  As far as I am concerned, Peppa is an unkind, rude and thoroughly selfish little pig, who is  more concerned about her own body image than she is about the rest that her little brother George needs and gets.

A new experience; a new challenge

As I begin to write my first blog, I can certainly say that it is with trepidation that I do so.  I feel I am entering a new world!  Please don’t get me wrong, I have much I wish to say and to shout about, but it is the world of blogging that I feel so unfamiliar with.

I would not class myself as a luddite when it comes to technology, and I embrace the speed at which the world of social media is moving, and mostly for good.  Why then do I feel this way?  This world of instant communication is one which in our children are constantly bombarded.  Do they feel this way?  Are they really showing the ‘native ability’ compared to my ‘immigrant efforts’?

So, enough is enough.  It is time to conquer fears and set myself a challenge.  How am I to lead children of the future if I am not prepared to get ‘stuck in’ myself?