Wednesday, 31 July 2013

In the eyes of a #parent, what makes an outstanding #school?

I had a call from a mum this week asking for help to make sense of school inspection reports. She was finding it hard to identify the key facts of importance in such a lengthy document, so she could make comparisons between schools. So what are the key factors which make a school outstanding?

In my opinion the Head comes first, closely followed by committed, well-qualified, inspirational teachers. 

Solid leadership and a clear strategy for delivering clearly stated educational outcomes are vital. A charismatic, proactive Head who demonstrates the ability to enthuse both staff and pupils to give of their best is of key importance. 

When it comes to teaching and learning, there should be clear evidence of imaginative, well-planned classroom activities, which engage and inspire children, encouraging and challenging every child to achieve their potential.

How pupil progress is monitored and assessed is important, as well as how this is communicated to parents. Showing a willingness to listen and take prompt and appropriate action when things are not going to plan is essential.

The ethos and values of a school must be in synergy with yours as a parent. You must be convinced that the Head and their staff team have the right attributes to deliver an all-round education, within an atmosphere in which your child will enjoy learning and hence thrive.

Formal/informal, single-sex/co-ed, mixed ability/steaming, creative/scientific/sporty -matching your child to the right learning environment and opportunities is crucial.

As well as reading the inspection report, a visit to the school will give you a far better idea of all of the above. Schools are about people. The only way to really compare one with another is to visit on a normal school day, so you can feel and observe the atmosphere for yourself.

Why not register for free tickets to attend our future schools fair on 21st Sept 2013? The event brings together over 40 schools, tutor companies and education providers to talk face-to-face with parent about choosing the right school at age 11, 13 or 16. 
16 seminars deliver advice from Heads on how to choose the right school.


Thursday, 25 July 2013

Tips on how to look confident in an #interview.

So you want to know how to get through your next interview ... and secure the position? What you know is obviously important as well as what you wear; however above all of that is the need to come across as confident and competent!  Firstly how to look confident! 

Relax - It’s no good someone shouting “RELAX” at you; it isn’t going to make you feel better! To be able to recall the feeling of relaxation when you want it without any feelings of anxiety you need to practice! Practice breathing deeply into the bottom of your lungs. The ability to relax is one of the most important keys to unlocking the door to successful interviewing.

Posture – Use these 3 tips to make sure you are standing “positively”; the string and bolero will help you sit “positively” and you will come across as interested and interesting!  

  1. The Tripod - Stand with your feet directly under your shoulders so that your weight is balanced evenly
  2. The String - Imagine that there is a string running up through your body. Pull the string (figuratively!) to raise yourself up at least an inch!
  3. The Bolero - Imagine that you are wearing a bolero jacket (the type that Spanish bull fighters wear). Pull the bottom at the back of the jacket down so that your shoulders are pulled back and your chest broadens.

Your smile – don’t forget to smile at your interviewer and make sure you smile with your eyes (otherwise you will look like a snarling animal!) If you are feeling nervous try to remember something that makes you happy as you walk in! 

Eye contact – a really important part of communication – look away a lot and you’ll look shifty; constant eye contact and you could come across as aggressive. Try to look your interviewer in the eye and if there is a panel interviewing you make sure you engage with them all.

Next time we’ll be offering tips aimed at making you sound confident!

Tips by kind permission of Sally Hindmarch from Partners With You. To find out more about her workshops, contact her via the details below.
Tel: 01494 453910
Mobile: 07950 257904

Monday, 22 July 2013

How do primary #school #parents know their child's academic potential?

It seems the latest Government initiative is to rank primary school children into ability bands according to performance in national tests at age 11. In this way, parents might get a better idea of their child’s academic potential compared with their peers, raising attainment by challenging and stretching their capabilities.

The idea seems unpopular amongst teachers; however I am not so sure.

I have certainly come across a number of primary school parents facing the 11+ in the next couple of years who do not seem to know how bright their child is. Particularly with boys, I hear ‘his brain is in his football boots, so I am not sure if he is really stretched to achieve his true potential.’ 

Most primary schools offer inclusive, mixed ability, diverse learning environments where competitive experiences are limited. We hear much about gifted and talented or supporting special needs, but when do we hear about improving the attainment of the average child? Do they just tick over under the radar?

With a strong culture of tutoring children for Bucks grammar schools, it might help parents be more realistic in their secondary school ambitions, if they had better guidance as to where their child sits academically within the year-group through more competition and challenging assessment. Generating greater parental trust that the primary school will recognise and realise each individual child's potential would also help.

Yes, some children develop slower than others so this would need to be taken into account, as well as children with summer birthdays. It also seems unlikely that a short test at 11 will give a better indication of potential across all areas than teachers, who get to know children over several years.

However the concept of giving parents better feedback on their child’s potential and presenting more challenging and competitive learning environments to ensure they realise it, seems a good idea to me.

For advice on secondary school choices, why not come along to the Future Schools Fair on 21st Sept 2013, to hear 16 heads making presentations to parents on a whole variety of topics. The event is free. Register for tickets via

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Preparing your teenager for #University - a few tips for #parents

Once those all-important A level results arrive, will your teenager be looking forward to moving on to the next stage of their life by starting university in the Autumn?

Here are a few tips to support parents in preparing them, so you can sleep slightly easier, once they have flown the nest.
  1. Help them to familiarise themselves with the town or city where they will be studying including the campus layout, location of faculty teaching blocks, public transport, location of the supermarket etc. A visit over the summer might help with this.
  2. Return any accommodation application forms for a place in a hall of residence promptly. Being amongst other ‘Freshers’ in a hall of residence, rather than a rented house during year one, will make finding their way around and meeting new friends easier and give a gentler acclimatisation into University life, especially if they have, to date, been living at home.
  3. Help them to plan the clubs and societies they will join during Fresher’s week. University is a fabulous opportunity to try a huge variety of new and exciting sports and activities and those who get fully involved from the outset will make new friends and hence settle quickest.
  4. Organise their finances by opening a bank account. Shop around for the one that is offering the best student incentives and ideally chose one which has a branch located close to the university or even better on campus.
  5. Spend some time going through the importance of budget planning and monitoring cash-flow carefully. Advise against credit cards. Getting a job during the long summer months post A level will give them a head-start with a few savings.
  6. If the timetable structure of their course looks like there might be time for some part-time work to supplement their student loan income, help them to get a CV and application letter ready and to start to research places where they might seek employment once in situ. Talk them through body language and basics of interview technique. Reliability, looking respectable and a friendly personality will be the key factors to get across. Review pictures and comments on their Facebook page as many potential employers will now review these before taking on young people.
  7. Have some fun in the kitchen helping your teenager with planning and cooking healthy meals on a budget. Reproducing some of mum’s home-cooked dishes for new friends will be a positive way to cope with homesickness in the early stages.
  8. Have a serious chat about safety, keeping gadgets and tech safe, managing drink, turning down drugs and coping with peer pressure to do things which they may feel are out of their comfort zone.
  9. Find out what the local GP arrangements are for students and register them.
  10. Advise against taking too many possessions with them for the start of the first term. Some things are essential, but having too much will cramp their living space and be too hard to keep track of. Homely but uncluttered is best. Valuables should be minimal. Make sure key items are covered by appropriate insurance.
  11. Advise against taking a car until they have seen where they will be living and investigated the parking arrangements. If they do choose to take a car, drink-driving should be discussed.
  12. A bike is a good investment and don’t forget lights and a high-vis top.
  13. A laptop with a good size screen will be crucial. Consider getting a separate mouse, keyboard and ensure they have the latest up-to-date software. Consider how their work will be backed-up and a few USB sticks might come in handy.
  14. Agree how you will keep in touch. Email, text, mobile, Skype. Give them space to explore this exciting new stage of their life, but explain your need to hear from them every once in a while, to be reassured they are happy and safe.

For advice on choosing the right course and applying to University through UCAS please call our team of consultants on +44 (0)1865 522066 or email

Monday, 8 July 2013

Surviving the #school summer #holidays – 10 Tips for working #parents

Many working parents will be looking upon the forthcoming summer break with a little trepidation. Quality family time without homework or getting up for the school bus is important. However juggling work commitments and childcare; entertaining children on a budget; activities for a range of ages; or surviving rainy days inside, are common challenges.
  1. Be organised. A wall-chart with space for each child means they know what is planned.
  2. Use a colour-coded system to highlight work commitments with childcare arrangements, appointments such as dental check-up, playing with school friends, quiet time at home, day trips or summer camps and family holidays. Explain your need for quiet during work-time, so you can have fun together outside these times.
  3. Discuss budget for holiday activities. Plan together how they would like to spend it - a good skill to learn for the future.
  4. Intersperse activities which need investment with lots of free activities in-between.
  5. Plan to be active. Plenty of fresh air and exercise will make down-time easier to manage. Invest in a rounders bat or Kwik Cricket set and organise picnics in the park with other families.
  6. Share childcare by reciprocal arrangements with friends’ families. Give and take is crucial.
  7. Encourage reading. Set a target, for example to read a book a week. Choose books that interest them. Your school may have a holiday reading list. Autobiography, fiction or reference. It shouldn’t matter, as long as they are engaged with a book.
  8. Work on a holiday project which needs research. Encourage them to read, write, draw, add photos and present.
  9. Engage youngsters in planning, shopping for and cooking meals or baking.
  10. Encourage assistance with chores such as a bedroom clear-out, washing the car, ironing, mowing the lawn, dog walking, in return for pocket money.
Parents, register for free tickets to the future schools fair. Meet state and independent senior schools face-to-face. Attend 16 seminars giving free advice on choosing the right school.

         Register via the website

Monday, 1 July 2013

Competition at #school - Is this an important part of #education?

With my background as a P.E. teacher I have been particularly interested in the debate this week about sports days and whether competition amongst peers at school is a good or bad thing.

The fact is that life and the world of work is competitive. Some parents undoubtedly face difficult issues when a youngster who has always been successful, experiences disappointment or failure for the first time. Not getting the lead in the school play or a place in the hockey team; failing the driving test first time; un-expected grades in GCSE exams or not winning a race on sports day are, in my opinion, important learning experiences for school-age children from an early age. Setting an example during the parents’ race on sports day, often the most competitive event of the day in my experience could be a good place to start.

Praise, empathy and encouragement are of course key factors which contribute to confidence and success, but so are learning to win or lose gracefully, accepting that it is not always possible to succeed and developing the determination to try again. We are all desperate to see a British Wimbledon champion, but the potential for Andy Murray to achieve this, was certainly not created by shielding him whilst growing up from competition or possible failure.

Encouraging your child to recognise and develop their strengths, set attainable goals when facing competition and to accept that there will often be peers who, for a whole range of reasons, will defy their dreams. Competitive experiences will equip them with the drive and determination to proactively seek out opportunity, work hard to achieve realistic goals and not to be put off by set-backs along the way when things don’t go according to plan.

Are you currently considering your future school choices and need some free advice and support?

The Future Schools Fair in Aylesbury on 21st Sept 2013 brings together over 40 schools, tutor companies and other education providers to offer free advice to parents on making the right school choices at age 11+, 13+ and 16+ 

Register for free tickets at