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Headteacher's blog: Nurturing the soul

Lisa Brown, headteacher Redmaids High Juniors

Concern for young people’s well-being and the level of stress and anxiety in our children is in the educational press frequently. Surely, a balanced curriculum which values creativity is good for the soul! We all enjoy a good music track; think about how you feel after listening to a favourite song. Why shouldn’t this sense of well-being be part of our children’s regular education?

Today is our summer concert where we will celebrate the many creative activities that have inspired our pupils this year; music ensembles, dance clubs and drama groups will perform whilst art will feature in an entrance lobby exhibition. We place great emphasis on the participation in creative arts here despite the continued demands for high academic standards. Time can be found in our busy days for a rich and varied curriculum including the study of art, music and drama.

Despite concerns about a decline in music education being very real due to funding, music doesn’t have to be expensive! Our Juniors have learned the ocarina, small wind instruments, that can have you playing a tune within minutes, and our handbells are free for all to try. Weekly whole school singing sessions create a wholesome sound and sense of community. The ‘Sing Up foundation’ conducts and cites research into the mental health and well-being benefits of singing and it is clear that they are many, from boosting confidence and self-esteem due to the release of endorphins, to the release of stress and tension by lowering cortisol levels. Yes, that feeling after singing along to that song in your car is good for you…….and it is free!

Many of our girls learn musical instruments too. We facilitate individual lessons during the school day and as soon as possible we encourage them to take part in an ensemble, listening to each other and performing as a whole, and enjoying an increased sense of community and belonging.

Learning an instrument doesn’t have to be about grades either, it can be about developing musicality and learning to improvise. The arts help pupils gain confidence, find out about themselves and enable success in other subjects due to the positive feedback they receive. Schools need to be able to give a good grounding in arts for all school children as it is a vital part of their development. By enriching their knowledge and involvement, and allowing them to express themselves beyond the core subjects, we provide spiritual, calming and enthralling experiences that are good for the soul, creating rounded individuals.

I am thoroughly looking forward to tonight’s celebration. I have heard or seen excerpts as I have walked around school, sensing the excitement of all the children. Yes, the whole school is taking part! I also know that although I am already impressed by their rehearsals, the girls will raise the level further and put their heart and soul into their performances. I wonder which song I will be singing on the way home?

 

Blog: Start with strong foundations: 11/1/2019  

When building a house, you always start with foundations. Surely, this is the same when educating your child? Laid correctly, the house will stand for years giving shelter and comfort for those inside it. Poorly laid and it could lead to all manner of stressful faults. Getting the blueprint right for your child’s education will establish a thorough understanding of concepts and give them the basic skills to equip them for life-long learning.

From the very start, time should be given for the small things. For example, pupils should hold their pencil correctly every time they write or draw. Incorrect pencil grips are notoriously difficult to fix in older children and by 16 years of age can inhibit writing legibly, comfortably and at speed in examinations.

Also, the concept of numbers and how they combine is harder to explain than you might think. Junior teachers need to be excellent communicators with a thorough understanding of subjects so that their children can ask questions confidently and receive knowledgeable answers.

Ofsted's chief inspector Amanda Spielman, gave a speech in late 2017 where she warned of too much focus on tests and exams in the primary sector, often at the expense of "rich and full knowledge". I agree, which is why we made the decision to discontinue with SATs. Being an independent school we are unfettered by government or other external influence and therefore have the freedom to offer a rich and varied curriculum, and the resources to truly know the ability levels of each child without them having to sit numerous stressful exams.

Furthermore, at Redmaids’ High Junior School we have small classes, giving our girls more teacher time. Learning can be tailored to individual needs, with support and extension given to those who need it. Beyond the classroom, we provide a wide range of additional opportunities that help to stretch and broaden interests, such as Wordshark club, Science quiz club, Robotics club and Memory Challenge. 

So, don’t underestimate the importance of a well-rounded and challenging junior school education. At Redmaids’ High we work closely with our parents, cementing the building blocks of their daughters’ education correctly, and ensuring their needs are met. Together we build a structure that becomes a personal architecture for future learning, happiness and success, both academically and personally. Visit us, meet our pupils and see us in action for yourself.

 

Blog: Mathematics - to set or not to set, that is the question?: 1/11/2018

In an assessment driven curriculum, it is very tempting to group children by ability within classes or indeed, to ‘set’ children. In my experience, at primary school age, this can be limiting and potentially damaging.

By giving differing levels of work you are thereby defining the parameters of a child’s learning. When we know that the development of young minds can happen at different rates, shouldn’t all young children have equal opportunity and exposure to learning as they lay down the foundations of their understanding?

I have seen the negative impact that ability grouping children as young as 4 or 5 can have in mathematics. At Redmaids’ High Junior School, we are struck by how many girls join us at Year 3, already harbouring a negative attitude towards maths.

This is often due to being placed in a lower ability maths group, even when it hasn’t been explicitly labelled as such. The interpretation being that they aren’t any good at it, leading to feelings of demotivation and a lack of enthusiasm.

A BBC article in June 2018 supported this view where a deputy headteacher, Sean Macnamara, cited being placed in a low ability group from age 5 as ‘setting him up to fail’ and taking many years to overcome this perception.

Indeed, anxiety about maths can be very limiting, with some studies suggesting it can reduce short term working memory. According to a study by David Robson in 2015, girls, in particular, are much more likely to suffer from ‘maths anxiety’, partly due to cultural expectations and stereotypes. Furthermore, autumn born children who may be up to 11 or 12 months older than the youngest in the class, will also be more likely to be in the higher groups: is that fair?

In our Junior school, we set the bar high and teach to the top, giving whole class introductions that offer stretch and challenge. Focused practical tasks then provide concrete examples before learning is translated into written calculations. The use of mini whiteboards enable mistakes to be made without a lasting mark in books before independent tasks are offered.

Our girls are trained, even in Year 3, to evaluate their own understanding and select a task that reflects their comprehension giving them control. For children of a junior school age who are still developing their own ways of learning, we truly believe this is the best way to encourage their own self-belief.

Then, by the time girls start senior school, the foundations have been laid and it becomes suitable for them to be grouped with others of a similar aptitude so any questions asked will be closer to that pupil’s own train-of-thought.

Of course no system is perfect and a class teacher must always monitor and check that pupils complete appropriate levels. Usually, a little nudge here or there is all that is needed. The result is a class of motivated and keen mathematicians who believe they can do it, and they do!

Date Posted: 18 June 2019
Infant/Junior

Articles for: Infant/Junior

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Redmaids' High 
Junior School

juniors@redmaidshigh.co.uk
0117 962 9451

Grange Court Road
Westbury-on-Trym
Bristol BS9 4DP

Company number: 5165135
Registered charity number: 1105017 

Redmaids' High School
Senior & Sixth Form

seniors@redmaidshigh.co.uk 
0117 962 2641

Westbury Road
Westbury-on-Trym
Bristol BS9 3AW                        

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