Head’s Blog

Head’s Blog – Sweeney Todd

The highlight of the week was undoubtedly the Senior School production Sweeney Todd. Having seen one of the songs performed at a recent assembly I was very much looking forward to the performance. Despite the disruption to rehearsals caused by the weather the previous week, it was fantastic. The show was hugely entertaining and there was no doubt the cast really enjoyed performing it.

Full credit to Mr Marple and Miss Fryers for leading the production. It takes a special touch to prepare so many of our pupils to perform so confidently on stage. It is a point which strikes me every year I see the performance at Haverhill Arts Centre. We have so many talented pupils who seem so comfortable singing, acting and dancing on stage. It was a moment of great pride which I am sure many parents shared.

Thank you to parents who supported the production, particularly in helping with costumes. Also, many thanks to all of you who helped the pupils get into the spirit of our delayed World Book Day. There were some great book characters costumes on show and I thought Mr Stuart was particularly striking as the Mad Hatter.

Recently we also saw two extremely strong performances in the national intermediate maths challenge. Jordan Liu, in Year 10, gained a gold with such a high score that he has qualified for the oddly named, but very impressive, pink kangaroo round.  Sean Ridley, who, as he is in Year 8, has not yet reached the age category for the intermediate challenge, was nevertheless also entered. He too achieved a very high score and qualified for the grey kangaroo round.

Both boys should be hugely congratulated and we wish them the very best of luck in the next round of this national competition. (If you want to have a go at a question yourself follow this link: https://math.stackexchange.com/questions/1719241/pink-kangaroo-maths-challenge-ria-bakes-six-raspberry-pies/1719273 )

Next week will be the turn of the Prep School to perform and we are looking forward to the Pirates of the Curry Bean. The pupils of Year 7 and 8 will attend the matinee production on Tuesday and parents are warmly invited to both this and the Thursday evening performances to be held in the Sports Hall.

Head’s Blog

We said farewell to our visitors from Shenzhen on Friday at a special assembly attended by the Years 7, 8 and 9 students. Jack, Winnie and Carol, three of the Winter School visitors, made very touching farewell speeches and there was a real sense of having grown together in friendship. We had hopes that the visit would help both our students and visitors to grow in understanding of each other’s culture and it was clear that this had been achieved. There was a real sense of togetherness amongst all the students.

We were delighted to have feedback too from the Chinese staff that their students found our staff to be excellent teachers.

The visiting students treated us to a recounting of a Chinese folktale, set to music and we repaid the complement with a number from the upcoming musical Sweeney Todd. Somewhat different in style to the folktale, it was uproariously funny and I hope you will all be able to come along to the Haverhill Arts Centre and enjoy the show for yourselves in a fortnight’s time. (Wednesday 7th and Thursday 8th March at 7 pm https://www.haverhillartscentre.co.uk/whats-on/sweeney-todd-the-shock-n-roll-show ).

We also had visitors from Cantabria, in northern Spain, last week. We have introduced Spanish to the Year 7 and 8 curriculum this year and these year groups had the opportunity to spend the day with the visiting Spanish students. They spent the morning in groups of six, three Spanish children and three Stoke students, working at tables in the Performing Art Building preparing bilingual presentations. Our students had to speak in Spanish and the visitors in English. There was a great buzz in the room and everyone enjoyed the experience.

In the afternoon they then work on a creative art project together with Mr. Reeves producing some very impressive hand illusion images, inspired by the artist Escher.

On Friday it was the turn of members of Year 10 to be with the Spanish visitors, accompanying them to Duxford Air Museum with Mrs. Smith and Mr. Jaina. It was interesting to hear that the history curriculum in Spain is quite different from the UK and much of content of the exhibits about the Second World War were entirely new for the Spanish children. Their curriculum focuses much more on the Spanish Civil War.

The visitors seemed to very much enjoy our students’ company and one or two of our boys seemed particularly popular with the Spanish girls!

I would like to express a big ‘thank-you’ to Mrs. Smith for arranging this visit and we are looking forward to the return trip to Spain next term.

Friday was our Prep Open Morning for which we had a good turnout, only to be capped by a very busy Senior School and Sixth Form Open Morning on Saturday. Thank you again to everyone who supported these events. It seems that the good news about Stoke is circulating more widely and we have had good numbers expressing an interest in joining us in September.

The Sixth Form options deadline passed this week and we will begin to structure the curriculum for next year’s Lower Sixth very shortly. We are pleased to see numbers growing for the Sixth Form and if you are interested in finding out more about it, either for this coming year or further into the future, please do contact our Registrar, Mr. Moore. ( registrar@stokecollege.co.uk )

On Wednesday it is our Year 9 Parents Evening where we will be discussing your children’s academic progress this year as well as starting the conversation on their options for next year. The GCSE Options Evening will be on Wednesday 14th March and we are excited to be launching a number of new level 2 vocational courses alongside the GCSEs on that evening.

On Thursday it is World Book Day, so don’t forget to dress up as your favourite book character, and then, finally, on Saturday we will be holding our Scholarship Examinations.


Head’s Blog

We were very proud of our students on Friday. Not only did our U11 Boys football team play their hearts out but all of our Year 10 students provided superb support to Mr Kelsall and Miss Fryers in running the ISA U11 Boys East Region Football Tournament at Stoke.

Sadly our team did not make it through to the playoffs but they finished their morning with their heads held high, proud of their win against CIS and their sustained commitment through all three matches. Well done to Thomas Hearn for leading the team so well.

A number of our Year 10 students were referees and kept cool heads as the stakes got higher and the games became more intense. It was a good leadership experience for them and helped to build their confidence to handle fast moving situations.

Taking part in the wider curriculum is very important at Stoke and doing things a little differently at times to engage the imagination is part our approach. Our Year 9 students went with their visiting Winter School buddies to Ipswich Museum on Thursday and our boarders had a very interested time visiting both the London Museum and St Paul’s Cathedral on Saturday. Few are aware of the connection the school has with the architect of St Paul’s, Christopher Wren, but the staircase in the main house was originally used by him in his London home. It was later sold off and bought by the Elwes family to install at Stoke.

In the Senior School the Year 9s this week also took part in an egg parachute challenge in science. Ms Stansfield gave each team a notional budget of 100 coins and a price list of materials so they had to really think about their resources. Each team then used their materials to design a means of protecting their egg from a fall from the first floor of the Main House onto the tarmac outside. There were a lot of good ideas but the challenge proved tough and only one team was completely successful. It was good to see our students working together with our visitors, developing cooperation skills as well as testing their creativity.

Not to be outdone the Prep School had an exciting week too. Kingfishers went on a mini beast hunt in the Walled Garden and had an experience of how it felt to be Michaelangelo painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel with Mrs Loveridge. What you can see in the picture is not an earthquake drill! It is actually the children creating their pictures on the underside of their desks.

Finches meanwhile were making Andy Goldsworthy natural sculptures in the Forest School with Mrs Taylor Aldred and Eagles were doing practical maths in the Prep School lobby with Miss Pye. They taped out a four quadrant graph on the carpet and plotted points and lines in a kinaesthetic approach to their maths topic.

Creative approaches to learning really stimulate children and I am looking forward to reporting more examples to you in the coming weeks.

Please remember Open Morning for the Senior School is on Saturday 24th February and for Prep School on Friday 23rd. Please do let any friends and colleagues know who may be interested in learning more about Stoke.

Head’s Blog

No two days are the same in education and certainly last Thursday proved it. What appeared at first to be an inconvenient loss of power at 6:30 am to the boys’ boarding house turned out to be a widespread power cut across the region.

At first it was somewhat inconvenient with no electricity for the boarders’ breakfast and both parents and staff finding the local roads clogged by downed trees and power lines. However, as the morning wore on it was apparent that the anticipated restoration of power was not going to be at 9:30 am, as originally promised.

Our emergency systems run on battery power for a number of hours and it was possible to teach some of the morning lessons. However, by mid-morning it became clear that we would have to close the school for teaching and by lunchtime, that boarders too would have to go to their guardians as there was no guarantee we would be able to operate safely that evening.

Two things struck me most about the day. The first, that without power, including no phone lines and only a slow internet connection by mobile, life very quickly changed. This was felt most in the evening as it grew dark and we had the last couple of pupils with us waiting to be picked up.

We gathered in the boarders’ games room, with emergency lamps, and looked out onto a completely dark village. There was a suggestion we got out a pack of cards and it felt as though a generation of change was being quickly stripped away.

The second most striking aspect of the day was how the school community pulled together. Staff ensured that all pupils were accounted for and that everyone got home safely. Parents helped each other with picking up children and a number of families looked after boarders who weren’t able to easily get to their guardians at such short notice.

There are of course, a number of points we learnt from the experience, not least, considering what we could do in a future similar event, to create an alternative route for inbound calls if the phone lines were dead. It was a great help that our MIS system still allowed us to email parents despite our local server being down.

Most importantly I must say thank you to everyone who helped out on Thursday. It made a difficult situation far more manageable.

I would like to also say that we returned quickly to normal on Friday and as well as lessons resuming, we took part in the ISA Cross Country event as planned. There were a number of notable successes including Lilia Bennett picking up a bronze medal. Well done to Lilia and to everyone who took part. I saw some tired but determined figures racing around the grounds at Finborough and it was clear how committed our pupils were.

We look forward to hearing more news about how they got on and about the swimming nationals which took place today at the Olympic pool, next week.

Head’s Blog

The first week back in January always feels like the beginning of the journey back down the mountain after the long climb of the Autumn term. We are heading again towards the summer and of course, the public examinations for Year 11. The mocks this week will have been a good experience for them. We very much take the view that they are ‘formative assessment’. In other words, the students will learn from the experience how better to answer GCSE questions and how well their approach to revision has paid off in the examination hall.

Mocks are therefore an extremely important part of Year 11, providing a dress rehearsal for the real thing. As well as the preparation, marking and feedback that the staff do, there is also another team I would like to recognise. A number of our students qualify to have readers and I would like to thank the parents who volunteered to come in over the last week to help out in that capacity.

We also had another very interesting trip out to The Welding Institute last week. The name of the organisation may not be the most glamorous but what they do is fantastic. Their monthly lecture this time was on the Solar Orbiter which will be launched in just over a year’s time to fly closer to the sun than any man-made vehicle has ever flown before. A remarkable number of British scientists are working on the project and the students were privileged to hear more about it from one of the top scientists involved.

With such significant figures regularly speaking at TWI we will be making return visits and are particularly looking forward to the F35B Lightning jet talk on 16th May.

On a separate note, we began the week with a staff training day. Part of the day was given over to two new organisational initiatives. The first is to enhance our pastoral tracking using our current iSAMS system. A school is a complex place and your children have contact with many adults every day. In order for your child’s tutor to be quickly informed of any successes or concerns that may arise, we have introduced a new aspect of the system which allows all such information to be readily shared with the tutor. We are trialling the system at present and believe it will help us strengthen further our pastoral care.

Our second initiative is to trial an online homework system. In effect, it will allow parents to directly access what homework has been set for your child and when it is due. Whilst this could be seen as reducing the responsibility each pupil has for managing their own work schedule, it does make the whole process much more transparent and allows parents to better encourage and support their children in getting homework done fully and on time. The trial will launch shortly and you will receive further information about it then. When it is up and running we will seek your feedback too so that we can refine the system to be as effective as possible.

Head’s Blog – Christmas Quiz

Students have been rising to the challenge of the Christmas maths problems posed in yesterday’s assembly. Avid Radio 4 Today programme listeners may recognise the questions. The first, solved by Sam in Year 6, is this:

If the True Love in the song ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’ gave away her gifts at a rate of one per day, starting on Christmas Day, on which day would she give away her last gift?

The second, so far unsolved is the following:

Father Christmas travels home to the Arctic every year for his birthday. At sunrise he gets up for a walk. He walks one mile south, one mile east, one mile north and arrives home. On what day was he born?

I have to admit I could only get my answer down to two possible days and then kicked myself when I read the solution. Let’s see if any of the pupils can go one better!

Head’s Blog

A fortnight ago I returned from a week’s trip to China. The main purpose of the visit was to meet agents and help them to understand more deeply the unique character of Stoke College. In turn this helps them find the students who would most benefit from our approach to education and to recommend them to us. As we continue to grow the school we want to ensure that the overseas students who join us have a good understanding of what we are about and therefore settle in quickly and happily to the school.

It was also an eye-opening experience. So much so that I made a slide show for my Economics A level students which you can view here.

I spoke to one young professional who hadn’t used cash for six months! Most of their transactions, including buying from street markets, are done by electronic transfer, person-to-person, using the WeChat app on their smart phones.

It was also striking that in Beijing, which has a huge number of mopeds and motorbikes, every single one is electric. They have little regard for crash helmets, seat-belts or even using lights at night but they seem to sense the additional risk and drive much more slowly and carefully that us Brits.

It is an extraordinary country and travelling by high speed train (295 km/h) between cities leaves HS2 looking somewhat dated already.

It would be an wonderful experience for some of our students to visit China in the future. We are now teaching Chinese up to Year 8 and we hope some might take it for GCSE. A trip in the coming two years would be fantastic for students who may be interested in pursuing Chinese further. I have no doubt that children in the current generation who can speak a bit of Chinese and understand the culture, will be at a great advantage over their peers.

On a different note, it was wonderful to see all the former Year 11 students on Thursday evening, to award them their well-earned GCSE certificates. They are a fine group of young people and both their parents and staff felt very proud of them as we heard Mr Marple describe each of them in turn. As their tutor, Mr Marple knew them very well. His thoughtful and amusing resumé of each of them in turn was well done and much appreciated.

Head’s Blog

Following its great success last year, we are looking forward to the bonfire night and fireworks display this coming Thursday. All parents and Stoke by Clare residents are invited to come and enjoy the spectacular display. Gates opening at 6 pm and refreshments will be provided. In the interests of safety we ask that you do not bring sparklers. We very much hope you can join us.

This Friday we will hold our annual act of remembrance at the village war memorial at 11 am. Anyone who is free would be most welcome to join us at this solemn occasion.

Our next Open Morning is on Saturday 18th November for the Senior School. The response to the September event was very positive, particularly for Year 7 entries for next year. We greatly appreciate the support we have from families in bringing in your daughters and sons on a Saturday morning to help.

We will run the Open Morning for the Prep School separately on Friday 17th November as a more accessible time for younger families. This will be a chance to meet all the staff and pupils of the Prep School. In addition Mrs Milnes will also be available to meet prospective Prep parents on Saturday 18th.

Flowers blooming in Autumn

We have just bid farewell to our visitors from the Xicheng Primary School of Beijing. A group of 48 Year 7 pupils, with their teachers, spent the last two days with us working on an Art project. Led by Mr Reeves, they produced flowers and feathers based around the theme of an English garden.

The children’s school specialises in artistic endeavour and working with our own Year 7 pupils, they produced some beautiful pieces of work.

We wish them a safe journey as they continue their tour of the UK and I would particularly like to thank Mr Reeves for preparing and leading such a thoroughly enjoyable two day experience.

Head’s Blog

Saturday’s Open Morning was extremely positive and visiting parents spoke highly of both the pupils they met and the staff. One parent noted the sincere pride their student guide had in the school. I should also note how delighted we were to have former pupils return to act as guides. Their loyalty to Stoke and belief in the value of the education they experienced is a real testament to the commitment of the whole school community.

Whilst we were disappointed to hear that our expected visitors for the coming week are unable to join us due to visa problems, the 5 little Chinese boys who spent last week with Mrs Milnes’ class had a tremendous time. Their teachers were sad they had to go, feeling another week would have really helped them attune themselves to the Stoke style of education. It was, nevertheless, a valuable week and memorable for our Key Stage 1 pupils too.

One interesting comment the visitors made was that their boys weren’t used to so much space or fresh air. Life is quite different in Beijing and it reminded us how lucky we are to have our children in such a beautiful, healthy environment and to be able to run around outside so much.

On Thursday we opened the conversation with our Year 11 students, holding our sixth form information evening. It also coincided with a similar event at Stour Valley School where we took a lot of enquiries. We very much hope that not only will a good number of our own students study for their A levels and BTECs at Stoke but also that they will be joined by other local students, keen to have such high quality education so close to home.

This week we are holding our Sixth Form taster day for Year 11s and they will have a chance to experience six different A level lessons. We expect it will be a key day for students as they start to form their ideas on what they wish to do post GCSE. We will follow it up with a consultation exercise with parents and pupils to help us draw up the best curriculum offer possible for 2018. Any parents of Year 11 pupils (or younger) who wish to find out more, please contact Mr Stuart.