Thursday, 30 January 2014

Is the school curriculum and quest for exam results killing creativity and imagination?

I have just spent the day at a vision workshop with the inspiring Vanessa Stottor and was particularly interested by her personal observation that our pass or fail culture in education should not be allowed to stifle who our children are as individuals.

It goes without saying that education must lead to academic results which realistically reflect each child’s full potential, but are parents and schools so focussed on this goal that they are neglecting the just as important need to celebrate and encourage creativity and develop each child’s imagination? 

Creativity and critical thinking are both important life skills. The right side of the brain is the creative side and the left one the more analytical side. Most of us have a personality with tendencies towards one side or the other. Identifying this in your child will help a great deal in supporting them in developing their true all-round potential.

For some, defining success through art, music, drama or sport may be far more relevant than examination certificates. The measurement criteria for success should be different to each child as an individual, where the focus is on their own personality, strengths and interests. Motivation comes from rewarding success in whatever form it presents itself and not trying to fit a square peg in a round hole.

In my opinion, successful business entrepreneurs rarely have a CV which reflects high academic attainment. More importantly seems to be an ability to dream up a good idea and having the confidence to go out, work hard and make it will happen.

Surrounding children with positivity, a sense of feeling good about themselves and allowing them to dream, will build confidence and self-esteem, inevitably inspiring all-round success.

To learn more about Vanessa and how she brings positivity to all whose lives she touches, visit her website

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Sunday, 26 January 2014

Do league tables give parents the right information to support choosing the right school?

With the latest league tables released last week the question arises once again, are these a useful tool to assist parents in choosing the right school? My advice is to be wary of giving these more than a quick glance.

A league table ordering schools according to the percentage attaining top grades doesn’t take into account whether or not the school is selective. If there are 5 or 6 applicants per place, it would be very disappointing if students didn’t attain excellent grades and hence top the league tables. As such, this doesn’t seem to give parents a true reflection of the key attributes of any school, selective or not.

For parents with bright children, this is of course an important factor. However for parents with children of average academic ability, talents in other areas or all-rounders, it is more important to compare academic attainment of alumni against initial potential, as well as the quality of the value added curriculum to build confidence, challenge and develop a whole range of skills.

I can’t help thinking that a league table listing schools according to the percentage of alumni who secured employment upon leaving or post-university might be of more use in the current climate. I was fascinated to hear from a school Head last week that he does not consider his job done until every one of his leavers has secured a job, even if they have been to university in-between. He said, ‘What is any school for but to ensure its leavers have the right skills, qualifications and confidence to secure a job?’

The most important thing to remember when choosing a school is that your child is an individual with their own personality, strengths, weaknesses, motivation and interests. As such, the right school will be the one which enables them to achieve their maximum all-round potential. Not just measured through academic attainment reflected through exam results, but also success in the value-added curriculum.

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Sunday, 19 January 2014

Tips for parents on choosing a senior school and moving at 11+ or 13+

Many parents are currently finalising senior school choices. Some also have the challenge of deciding whether to move at 11 or 13. Our excellent local state and independent senior schools mean parents are spoilt for choice.

It is hard to give generic advice as it depends on the family circumstances. Consider your child as an individual and make a decision as to what feels right. When you visit a school you instantly get an impression of which one has the right ethos and atmosphere. To do this, visit on a normal school day rather than an open day when the school is on show.

Talk to the Head and other key staff and choose a school with the same values and philosophy as you.

Ignore dinner party banter and avoid making comparisons with other families. Advice from all directions can take you round in circles and lead to confusion. Stick to one or two independent sources of advice such as the Head of your prep or primary school or an education consultant.

Staying on at prep until 13 gives a wealth of opportunities to develop independence and life skills through positions of responsibility. Being a big fish at the top of a small pond means expectations to achieve are high.

Years 7 and 8 in a senior school by contrast are often seen as settling in years where the aim is to lay foundations and nurture confidence, being the youngest pupils in a bigger school environment. Some children thrive better with this approach at this age, especially where a change of scene is needed to maximise potential.

Competition for places often forces parents’ hand, with a move at 11 often being the less risky option, where waiting until 13 can mean places are like gold dust.

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Friday, 17 January 2014

Inspection reports are a good way for parents to gain in insight into schools

When considering school choices researching all of your options is crucial, especially if you are new to an area. Talking to other parents is of course beneficial but is rarely without emotion generated by personal experiences. One of the most useful tools for parents looking for an independent opinion about the standards of teaching and learning in the schools you are considering is to read the latest Ofsted inspection report. 

Ofsted reports directly to Parliament and is both independent and impartial. By law it must inspect schools with the aim of providing information to parents, to promote improvement and to hold schools to account. Reports can be read via the Ofsted websiteite

The inspection lasts between one and two days and schools receive only one days’ notice prior to the inspection. Inspection teams are keen to see the school as it is and not on show.
The focus of the inspection is the quality of teaching as well as the pupil’s progress and attainment. Information is gathered by talking to the headteacher, governors, staff, parents and pupils. Lessons are observed across the curriculum. They also look at how well the school is led and managed as well as the culture, ethos, behaviour and safety of pupils.

The reports therefore give a good all-round feel for a school’s atmosphere and strengths, as well as highlighting any weaknesses. This makes it far easier for parents to make objective comparisons between schools in a given area.

Independent schools are also inspected, mostly by the Independent Schools’ Inspectorate (ISI). These reports can be found via the website

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