Head’s Blog

Harvest Festival and Food Banks

The season is changing rapidly and Stoke is a riot of Autumn colours. The harvest locally has been relatively good with the long warm weather reducing the growth of the wheat but making the gathering in easier. 

Whilst Stoke is in the heart of fertile farming country, for most of us the connection with the land is more tenuous so it is good to remind ourselves of where our food comes from. 

Our Prep School did just that last Friday, attending the village church to celebrate this year’s harvest festival and to think about how fortunate we are to live in a country and at a time where food is secure and abundant for most of us. However, this isn’t true for everyone in our community and over the past two weeks the Prep children and parents have been donating food for our local food bank.

It was very impressive to see the collection grow and to see the generosity of so many families. One parent said to me that they aren’t sending Christmas cards this year but instead will use the money saved to shop with their children for the local food bank. It’s a wonderful idea, not just because it can make such a difference to the recipient families but also because they are involving their own children in the thought process of buying the right sort of foods which will most help.

Perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise that similar thoughts are discussed with our sixth form economists too, when we study the trade in food and the distribution of income. The reality of food banks makes the academic learning more relevant and very much more real.

The difference in approach to learning at A level was something our Year 11 students experienced on Thursday too. They had the chance to sample a wide range of A level subjects, as well as BTEC, as they plan for the next stage in learning after GCSEs. It was a stimulating day for both staff and students and we look forward to many of them joining our sixth form next year to take advantage of the closely supported tuition we offer.

Listening

It’s important to communicate but it’s not just the talking that matters, it’s the listening. Last Tuesday we met with parents of the Puffins class, on Wednesday we held the Prep School Parents Evening and on Thursday, our Sixth Form Information Evening.

If there was a single message to come out of these meetings it was that it is hugely helpful for us as teachers to hear parents’ views.

You can tell us what your children feel about how they are doing at school. It is always good to hear the positives but it is so important also that we hear how things can be improved. Often small changes can make a big difference for a child.

Stoke is so distinctive in its ethos. The positive way children interact with each other and how they respond to staff is a huge part of why it is such a nurturing school.

Listening to our prospective parents who visited on Friday and Saturday for our Open Mornings, it was worth being reminded of just how different children’s experiences of education can be.

A number of our new pupils transfer from state schools with class sizes of up to 32. Our class sizes are often eight to ten and usually never more than 15. In the sixth form, A level groups are typically three to five students.

The time we can give to each child in each lesson is far greater. We can check their understanding more often and can address any individual difficulties in understanding more effectively without the pace becoming too slow.

The discussions we had at our Sixth Form evening brought back memories of my early days in teaching when I worked in sixth form colleges. Usually A level groups were well over 20, so setting and marking an essay was a huge undertaking. To provide each student with high quality feedback would be a full day’s work at the weekend.

By contrast, in groups of three to five students, work can be assessed more frequently and more time can be spent on personal feedback.

This can only be done at a cost and we are very mindful of the sacrifices parents make to send their children to Stoke. It is one reason why we listen so carefully to parent feedback and do all we can to continue to improve the personalised learning experience we offer every child.

Head’s Blog – Artistic Windfalls

Despite the breezy weather we have still managed to spend plenty of time out-of-doors this week. Our Geographers travelled to the coast as part of their GCSE research, investigating coastal erosion at Walton-on-the-Naze.

At school this week we couldn’t run Forest School in the woods as a precaution, due to the wind. However, it did mean we could collect twigs and small, fallen branches for an art and biology project. The pupils created life-sized skeletons out of the collected wood, sticking them to large pieces of backing-paper. Finding the right length of twig for each bone was an excellent way to learn how our frames are structured.

Playtime in the Prep School is a real treat to supervise for Senior School staff. It is such a change of pace from teaching the older students. This week many of the Prep pupils were playing ‘horses’, creating a variety of imaginative jumps around the Walled Garden.

The garden once had its own orchard and a number of old apple trees still remain. They are quite a few varieties and some are delicious. However, we weren’t eating the windfall this week, but instead we did some creative drawing. Some of our Reception children created an ‘apple man’ on the grass, which can be seen in the picture above.

Meanwhile another part of the garden became a grass court, with doubles tennis being played.

It is one of the great joys of education to be with young children as they play. They are so tuned in to having fun and you can see how they learn both social and practical skills as they play. To be able to do so in such a beautiful setting is one of Stoke’s great delights.

An Appeal for Help with Employability Skills

Thank you to all the parents who came along to the Parent Teacher Association AGM last week. We had a very positive meeting and I was particularly thankful for the offers of help we received for our work experience placements next summer and for the speaker series we are launching.

Over the coming academic year we are aiming to run a series of talks from a variety of speakers in a wide range of careers. The aim is to give our students a greater sense of the world of work and the possibilities open to them.

We will be announcing talks in the coming weeks and we would be hugely grateful to any parents who might be keen to come in to school to speak about their own career.

Last summer our current Year 11s each had a work placement for a week with the estates department at Cambridge University. They have generously offered to provide the same opportunity this year. We would very much like to build upon this successful experience for this year’s Year 10. If you were able to offer a placement for a Year 10 student next summer please contact me at Stoke. 

We are aware that there are many more compliance requirements than in the past before a place of work can offer work experience so understand that this is not a small gesture of support that we are asking for. However, if you work place is already geared up for work experience, or you would be happy to undertake the necessary preparations, please let us know.

We had a very positive first week of activities this past week and look forward to seeing it settle down into becoming part of the new routine. It has been fantastic to see so many students take part.

We also saw our older Prep School pupils start their cycling proficiency on Monday. The course leader was hugely complementary about both their positive attitude and polite manners so well done Year 6!

Back into Action

After the busyness of preparing for the start of term it is good now to be back in routine. We were delighted to welcome back all the pupils and students on Wednesday as well as to see many new children too.

The start of term is always an anxious one for parents, pupils and staff so it was good to see so many happy faces at the end of the first day. Indeed, holding our first Activities Fair on Wednesday evening created a real buzz and we are looking forward to launching many new activities this year. All the teaching staff do at least one activity each week and the games staff are putting on sporting events every evening of the week.

Some of the clubs are entirely new, such as the miniature modelling club, touch rugby, the ukulele club and the Marvel drawing group. Of course there is always the option every evening to attend homework club too. We are hoping to see every student get involved in a variety of activities to broaden their interests and also so that they enjoy school even more.

We have had fantastic results again at GCSE. However, it is more important to know what direction you want to go in life, to know how to use your skills and qualifications, as it is to do well academically. By trying lots of different activities we hope that the pupils will develop and broaden their interests. For many they may discover a hobby they pursue in adult life but for some it may be the spark that also sets the direction on their career.

We welcomed a new cohort of sixth formers this year too, meaning that we now have a complete sixth form. We took both year groups out for a meal in Clare in Thursday evening to celebrate the start of the year and to help them get to know each other as well as some of the staff. Charades proved a fun ice-breaker and helped students of all nationalities to get involved together.

This weekend has been a combination of fun and necessity. We had a day out on Saturday for everyone to the zoo, which included going on some rather high wires, followed today by an essential shopping run for various items of school wear. 

The term now feels truly up and running and we are all looking forward to the first full week of teaching tomorrow, which I am sure to everyone’s delight includes the start of the homework timetable! 

Head’s Blog – Fire and Lightning

The Prep School pupils had a good week last week. The youngest class, the Finches, had a visit from the local fire brigade so that they could bring a dramatic end to their Great Fire of London project.

Finches have been studying the Stuart disaster this term and built model Pudding Lane houses as part of the project. On Monday they had the practical experience of observing the dangers of building houses out of flammable materials. Just as importantly, they also got to see first-hand how the local fire brigade puts out fires.

The site of an operational fire engine at work on the play ground brought the rest of the Prep School out to watch and also a number of staff. The lucky members of Finches then got the chance to use the fire hose for themselves!

On Tuesday senior school students in Years 9 and 10 got the opportunity to attend a fascinating talk at The Welding Institute. This is the fourth lecture we have attended this year and it proved to be the most popular. The talk was on the new combat plane for the RAF, the F35 B Lightning. As part of the talk, the students also got to hear about how the latest Navy aircraft carrier has been designed specifically for this ultra-modern plane and to appreciated some of the complex logistics involved. It was a fascinating evening for anyone with an interest in cutting-edge engineering.

The Prep School finished the week with a thoroughly enjoyable visit to Thurlow Country Park and there were many happy smiles and excited talk of puppies on the way home on Friday.

In the meantime the Year 11 students have been hard at work with their GCSE examinations. They are now into the full flow of public exams and we are very grateful to all the volunteers who are helping as scribes and readers.

Next week will be equally busy for them and we will ensure they have all the study support they need.

Others however are looking forward to the ISA National Athletics on Tuesday – we wish them the best of luck. Meanwhile many younger members of Senior School will be heading to Spain with Mrs Smith. Que te vayas bien! 

Head’s blog – cooking, reading & heart beats

With the practical sessions for the PE and Food courses having taken place, we can now say that this year’s GCSEs are officially underway. Monday saw our budding chefs in Year 11 complete three course meals which staff had the onerous duty of sampling! Needless to say, we were impressed; not just with the quality of the food but also the presentation. We also discovered why they take tiny mouthfuls on Masterchef. Tasting nine different courses and being able to treat the last course with the same perspective as the first requires a certain amount of discipline.

We held our Prep School information evening on Tuesday, where Mrs Dickinson took the opportunity to explain how we measure pupil progress through the school. Everyone was in agreement that the regular objective testing of reading, spelling and numeracy was very helpful and the feedback from parents was extremely useful. She will be writing to all Prep parents with a follow up in the very near future.

Also in Prep this week I was fortunate to pop into the Finches classroom whilst they were reading with their older peers, Kingfishers. It was really striking how the help of the older pupils created a very focused atmosphere and how seriously the Kingfishers took their responsibility.

Meanwhile the Eagles had been learning all about the heart. They measured their resting, normal activity and high activity heart rates to understand better how the heart responds to extra physiological demands. They even took my heart rate too with a stethoscope. I was relieved to find it wasn’t racing too fast and all looked normal. I was very impressed with how they integrated their science learning with their art, creating a set of connected tile images in different artistic styles to show blood circulation and another showing oxygenation of blood in the heart.

Eagles’ tiled images of arteries and capillaries

 

It was good to see plenty of parents come to the Cock Inn, Clare on Wednesday evening for the PTA meeting. We has a good discussion about encouraging reading and interesting ideas on how the association might help raise funds for the new Prep library. We are very keen to increase the number of parents who get involved. We realise that many parents are extremely busy both with work and family commitments so we are hoping that more may get involved just by offering an extra pair of hands for an evening when we have one of our major events. The next PTA event is the summer barbecue and we hope that the weather will be kind and we will see a big turnout again this year, particularly as it will also be the occasion for a piece of outdoor theatre.

Last Monday saw the first of the three drama trips, with Mrs Hunn Smith, for our GCSE students with the second this coming Monday. The first, ‘Mary Stuart’ at Cambridge Arts Theatre, was intense and thought provoking. The students were amazed to discover the script is over 200 years old as the production had such a contemporary feel. They are all now looking forward to ‘Blood Brothers’ tomorrow and ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ on Wednesday.

Finally, a big thank you again to all the pupils who supported our Open Mornings. The mornings were among the most successful we have had and bode very well for the future. 

Prospective pupils enjoying a chemistry experiment with Mr Burridge 

Head’s Blog – Sunshine and Roses

What a difference warm weather makes! Our first week back was blessed with warm sunshine and there was a relaxed and happy mood across the school.

The staff had a very positive inset day on the Monday. We focused on team-building and were very grateful to Mr Reeves and Mrs McKenzie for the activities they prepared. You will be seeing ‘twang art’ appearing around the school as a result and you may also spot the odd bunch of white roses. These were actually made from sugar paste by the staff but look extraordinarily realistic. It did feel a little like being on the Generation Game at times but it had a serious purpose too. We as a staff team want to strengthen our working relationships because this helps us fulfil our roles in educating your children.

A number of our older students with an interest in engineering took a trip to Marshall Aerospace this past week too. There are no pictures because of the high level of security but the students were very lucky to have access and to see first hand a number of different forms of engineering they could pursue as a career.

Good luck to the students taking their GCSE Food practical tomorrow and well done to those who went to the GCSE PE practical moderation last week.

We also have a trip to Duxford for Year 6 coming up on Tuesday as well as the Prep School Parents’ Reception Evening in the evening at 5pm. We do hope as many Prep parents as possible will be able to come along.

Also our PTA committee would be delighted if you would join them in the Cock Inn, Clare at 7 pm on Wednesday. New members are very welcome. The PTA are putting on a barbecue towards the end of term, combined with ‘theatre in the garden’, which promises to be a lovely evening. We know that parents are very busy but even if you can only help out at the occasional event, you would be most welcome.

Finally, thank you again in advance for your support for Open Morning next Saturday. We are very grateful to all families whose children come in to help and make these events the success they are.

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.