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Headteacher's blog: Independent junior education - cementing stronger learning

By Lisa Brown, Headteacher, Redmaids’ High Junior School

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.

Friday 11 January 2019


Blog: Mathematics - to set or not to set, that is the question? - 13 November 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: 11 January 2019

Articles for: Infant/Junior

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Redmaids' High 
Junior School

0117 962 9451

Grange Court Road
Bristol BS9 4DP

Company number: 5165135
Registered charity number: 1105017 

Redmaids' High School
Senior & Sixth Form

0117 962 2641

Westbury Road
Bristol BS9 3AW