16 June 2017

Sharing ideas

This week our Deputy Head (Academic), Dr David James, reflects on our recent Education Summit and the future of schools post election.

On Wednesday 7 June Bryanston held its first Education Summit. Our strapline was: ‘delivering a world class education in turbulent times’. Just how turbulent these times are was driven home the following day when the first results from the general election started to come in. With so much uncertainty affecting so many aspects of this country’s future it seemed particularly important to bring people together to discuss what were the biggest issues facing schools today, and how could they be resolved.

And so we invited some of the most influential speakers working in education to give us their insights, and over 400 delegates arrived to listen, take notes, debate and disagree. Those attending came from all sectors: primary, prep, maintained and fee-paying secondary, and there were representatives from higher education as well. Themes developed over the course of a fascinating day: the role that technology could play was explored by Ian Fordham, Head of Education at Microsoft UK. Award-winning teacher Paul Turner looked at how technology could be used meaningfully in the classroom, and there were other sessions by, among others, Crispin Weston, James Penny and Jane Basnett, which looked at how far technology could shape learning. The answer? Quite a lot, but only if the teachers are fully trained. And that requires investment, of resources, trust ... and time.

And time was a theme running through the day. Professor AC Grayling discussed ‘educating the future in the present’, and Martin Robinson explored similar themes arguing for a return to the ‘trivium’ style of teaching which places emphasis on grammar, rhetoric and logic. Russell Speirs discussed the ten biggest educational trends in 2017, and a panel of prep school heads looked at the future of prep schools in a turbulent world with ever-changing priorities (and demographics).

In such uncertain times people often reach out to others, for guidance, and support. And colleagues from maintained schools discussed the nature of partnerships, both within the sector and across independent and state. Sharing, it was felt by many, results in strength, not dilution. But the pressures schools are under was also debated, with one panel of head teachers arguing about whether leading a school at such times is the ‘impossible job’. It was heartening to hear so many school leaders say it remained such a valuable and rewarding job, but the responsibilities are growing, and resources are shrinking.

There was also a strong evidence-based strand running through and across sessions. Experienced teachers and researchers such as Nick Rose (on using memory research in the classroom), Lucy Crehan (on the role that culture plays in creating education superpowers), David Didau (on the research that helps us make kids more academically successful), and, in the final keynote, leading educationalist Professor Dylan Wiliam talked about how we can create the schools our children need (which are different from the ones they actually have). It was stimulating, provocative stuff.

I end where I began: on uncertainty. Now that we know the result of the general election, it seems less likely that we will see a return to grammar schools, but what fills that policy hole? How important will schools be to a government that is struggling to retain a working majority while it is negotiating Brexit? My guess is that schools will slide down the political agenda quite quickly, and that is potentially very serious for the future of our country. On a more positive note, the summit showed what is possible when teachers come together, and share ideas, good practice, and find local solutions to perennial problems. Of course, such things cannot be scaled up to a national level, but perhaps this is the most we can achieve in the immediate future, and indeed this might be enough to ensure our schools still help produce gifted students ready for the 21st century. That is the hope, and until these turbulent times settle down, that might be just enough.

26 May 2017

Hidden gems

This week our Head of Boarding, Claire Miller, takes a look at the crucial role matrons play in a boarding school.

When your child heads off to boarding school there are many members of staff you, as a parent, will get to know quickly: housemaster/housemistress (known as hsm at Bryanston), tutor, subject teachers, the Head, the list goes on. However, there is one key member of staff who will be central to your child’s life at school and who you will also get to know well: their matron.

Matrons at Bryanston are at the heart of the school and at the core of the pastoral care of the pupils. They are key to the smooth running of any boarding school and at Bryanston, we feel we have one of the very best team of matrons a school could ask for. The essential role of a boarding house matron has not changed a great deal over the years, however, it has certainly become more complex as the pressures of growing up have changed.

Our matrons are dedicated to their role in the school and devoted to the pupils in their house. At Bryanston, their day begins by 8.15am and by the time pupils have left the house, their matron has registered them, made sure they have made their bed, tidied their room, packed their books and departed for Main School in time for their first commitment of the day. This might be assembly, Chapel or lessons. During the morning, while pupils are in lessons, matrons work with the domestic team to ensure the boarding house is shipshape. In the afternoon, while the hsm may be teaching or coaching, matrons are with the pupils to offer advice and support and, when needed, the motivation to try harder. They are also masters of baking and many of our matrons will do a variety of activities with a small group of pupils in their house during the afternoon before they leave at 6pm to return to their own families and enjoy a well deserved rest before starting again at 8.15am the next morning.

Matrons are often the first port of call for pupils for everything from mending clothes to providing a friendly ear and a shoulder to lean on, and pupils are more likely to notice if matron isn’t there than if their hsm isn’t. The matron is somebody who the pupils know they can depend on and they play a big part in the lives of our pupils. As one hsm once noted of a departing matron:

On the many occasions that Matron has taken a boy to hospital and I cover break, I sit in her office and boys come in, look, pause and leave. When I ask if I can help, they say, “I’ll wait for Matron.”

It isn’t only the pupils who rely on matrons, they also provide essential support to hsms, especially as they have a keen eye for the early warning signs of potential problems and often see pupils when they’re off guard. The partnership between Matrons and hsms helps to ensure no pupil slips through the net.

While matrons come with different personalities and approaches, they share certain key characteristics that make them stand out: kindness, patience, understanding, wisdom, fairness, organisation, approachability and an open and honest communication style. Above all, they are committed to the wellbeing of all pupils in their house. Unassuming and always there for your child, boarding house matrons are hidden gems.

12 May 2017

Managing the move from junior to senior school

This week's blog is from our Director of Admissions, Edrys Barkham, who looks at ways to manage the move from junior to senior school.

As nervousness for the Common Entrance (CE) starts to take hold for some children, parents, who are always ahead of the game and have already worried about CE for many months, will now be feeling twinges of nervousness about their child starting at senior school. Will they manage the workload? How will they organise themselves? How will they cope with the older pupils? Will they sleep? Will they eat? Will they wash? Once you start worrying, the questions go on and on!

The transition from junior to senior school can therefore be a stressful time for both children and parents. What can you expect as your child settles into their new school? The change in routine, food, and activity can lead to feelings of dislocation and being a bit lost. Interactions with new people can result in unexpected reactions, which cause uncertainty and can result in a loss of confidence. Identity is defined by the roles we play and the responsibilities we take on; the transition from the top of a junior school to the first year at senior school involve change in roles and responsibilities. Whilst this can promote feelings of excitement and anticipation it can, at the same time, trigger feelings of pressure and defensiveness. New relationships have to be established and new support structures developed. Change affects the way children think about themselves and as they develop new habits, vocabulary and ways of thinking, a new self-identity emerges. The transition process can take between 6 -12 months and there is much that can be done to make this process as easy and successful as possible.

Adopting a new school routine is one of the key ways in which new pupils start to feel they belong to a wider community. At Bryanston tutors meet their new tutorial pupils every day for the first couple of weeks to go through the daily timetable and help them plan out their extra-curricular activities and preps. In the junior boys’ houses the housemaster can focus entirely on their new charges and remind them of what they should be doing, when they should do it and where they should be. With small numbers of new girls in each house, the housemistress is able to help the girls individually and notice if they are struggling to cope. Housemasters/ housemistresses (hsms) and tutors both play a vital role in helping to explain the culture of the school, allowing children to understand the reactions and behaviours of those around them. Peer mentors and house prefects are important in helping new pupils make sense of the school’s expectations of behaviour. Through all these regular conversations, new pupils learn how to communicate effectively, which, in turn, helps to establish trust so that they know where they can go for help and advice. In tutorial, tutors identify the positives in their tutorial pupils’ lives, help them discover their strengths and talents and, through conversation, clarify their roles and responsibilities at the school. Establishing good relationships with staff and making new friends help new pupils to develop resilience and build confidence.

However, the process of settling in is not always smooth and parents are often the first to be told this, sometimes in a tearful conversation. Whilst this conversation is likely to leave your emotions in tatters, the fact your son or daughter has unloaded on you often means that they feel better and they head off to be with their friends, leaving you thinking you have a distraught child. Usually, the reality is they have bounced back and feel fine; a quick conversation with their hsm can reassure you all is well.

Allowing children to learn their own strategies for coping with change is a necessary skill for future life. If they learn how to deal with issues of identity, relationships, roles and responsibilities and reactions of others, with the help and guidance of their tutor and hsm, they will be better prepared to manage the multitude of transitions they will meet in future life.

The move from junior to senior school can be challenging, however, it is important to remember it also brings with it an exciting array of new opportunities and challenges. Each year we survey our new D pupils (year 9) at the end of the autumn term, partly to help us understand how they are settling in and also to identify any areas for improvement. Among other things, they are asked which three words best described their first term at Bryanston. The results of this year’s survey show that although they found it interesting, challenging, different, exciting and tiring, most also said it was fun!