Head’s Blog

Sixth Form Futures and Curious Incidents

Sunday 10th February

Despite the high winds causing loss of power to the school on Thursday, the trip to the West End still went ahead. A group of students from Years 9, 10 and 11, including all those studying Drama GCSE, went to see The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time.

It is a highly original play that portrays the world as seen through the eyes of a young man with autism. The impressive set and compelling mystery both make for an entertaining and thought-provoking experience and it was greatly enjoyed by staff and students.

The previous evening we held our sixth form options evening in the Main House. Mr Stuart spoke to many of our Year 11 students and their parents about the unique character of the sixth form at Stoke. With highly experience staff, small tutorial-style classes and private study spaces Stoke offers an exceptional opportunity to study A levels and to access Russell Group universities. 

We also offer BTEC courses and IELTS preparation meaning that students who want a vocational pathway and those who want to access a British university from overseas can equally benefit from our sixth form.

After the address we held a subjects fair, where the teachers of each course had an information stall and families could discuss with staff in greater depth what each course entails. A number of courses are new at A level, such as Psychology and Economics, so the chance to find out more about these courses was particularly helpful.

We were pleased with the number who attended the evening as well as the number of sixth form scholarship applications we have received and look forward to seeing many of our students continue into Year 12.

Subject choice forms are due back after half term and if there is anyone reading this blog considering Stoke as their sixth form destination they are asked to contact us as soon as possible.

Finally, a big thank-you to all the students and parents who helped out at Open Morning on Saturday. It was a very good day and our visitors were hugely impressed with the enthusiasm, engagement and good nature of all our pupils.

Head’s blog: GCSE mocks and University applications

Our first week back to school has been highly significant in two ways for our senior students. Our Year 11s have sat their mock GCSEs and our final UCAS forms have been completed by Upper Sixth students.

For the Year 11s it was tough to have to spend the Christmas break preparing for mock examinations but also a necessary reality as the time of the final examinations begins to accelerate towards us.

It is inevitable that they felt nervous anticipation and also that little mistakes would be made. This is good. The purpose of mocks is to have as realistic an experience as possible of GCSE papers in order to meet the real examinations completely prepared.

No matter how challenging we tell the students sitting the examinations will be, the actual experience of a full week of GCSE papers has brought the message home. I was pleased to hear their view that whilst the papers were difficult, and the experience was a shock to the system, it was very worthwhile and helped them feel more prepared for the summer.

Next week, when the marked papers are returned, will be a very valuable experience too. Feedback is so important for learning. It personalises education by providing each student with clear guidance on what has gone well and what could be improved. It also gives the opportunity to review areas of misunderstanding, when minds have been sharpened by the exams and concentration is at its highest.

For the Upper Sixth, the act of sending their UCAS application forms off to universities is a moment of significance. They are shaping their future. Their home for the next three to four years is being decided through this process and their future careers will come another step closer.

We now wait with bated breath to see what offers they will get and what grades they have to achieve to reach their preferred universities. There is an inevitable pressure on both staff and students but it is a bonding experience too. We work with a common purpose and the final teaching term is hugely rewarding. Students are at their most knowledgeable and we are taking them as far as we can academically. We hope ultimately the experience will be as rewarding for the students as it is for us as their teachers!

Farewell Concert

Friday night was a wonderful success. The farewell concert, organised by governors Mrs Lydia Roe and Mr David Cardle, held in honour of Mr Marple’s retirement, was hugely entertaining and moving.

We were all stunned by the quality of the voices of the students who volunteered to sing in the first half of the concert. There really is a huge amount of talent at Stoke.

We were then treated to a solo from Old Stokesian professional musician, Peter Clegg Hepworth, who sang one of his own compositions and with which we all joined in. He then introduced Matt Cardle (X factor winner 2010) who sang the most extraordinary rendition of Chandelier.

Following Matt, the school band, 19335, not as it is now but as it was in the 1990s, reformed. Peter and Matt were joined by among others, the Boon twins, Tom and David, Peter Ayello Wright and Tom Peachey, and sang a rendition of Another Brick in the Wall. Matt’s guitar solo was extraordinary but then he was upstaged (in the nicest possible way) by Mr Marple riffing on the grand piano. I’m not sure whether Roger Waters would approve of a jazz interlude to his greatest hit but it was brilliant moment.

At the end of the concert all the students rejoined the stage to sing a rendition of Abba’s ‘Thank you for the music’ to send Mr Marple on his way.

It was one of the best evenings I have spent at Stoke and I believe it made real, for all the students there, the idea that you really can achieve your dreams when your teachers believe in you.

The Future World of Work

On Wednesday 5th December Lord Triesman of Tottenham, former Labour government minister, visited Stoke College, to speak to the students about the future world of work.

Lord Triesman was formerly the chair of the Football Association and a minister in both the Foreign Office and the Department for Innovation, Skills and Universities in the Gordon Brown government. He spoke to the senior students of the college about the likely changes in employment opportunities they would face in their working lives.

Both in his talk and in response to a range of well thought out questions, he painted a picture of possibilities and risks well beyond the current uncertain political climate. He told the students of times in the past when industries had been rocked by innovation, leading to massive job losses but also to new employment.

He foresees that the areas of greatest growth in the future will be in the industries which respond to climate change with new products and in artificial intelligence. These would be areas needing highly skilled and educated people who will develop and produce new products and services.

He also expects that if the UK does ‘Brexit’ it will create administrative and technical jobs as the economy adjusts to running independently of Europe.

Charlotte in Year 9 asked whether new jobs would be less stable than in the past and Amanda in Year 13 asked which jobs would die out due to artificial intelligence. He painted a picture of concern that jobs would be less secure and many would disappear. Overall though, he felt the picture was optimistic and said that society had to start grappling with the fact that there would be less traditional work to do.

He believes we should be looking seriously at places where they have experimented with guaranteed minimum incomes to prepare for a new, high technology world. He also pointed to a current trend in the UK where the fastest growing sector for employment, at 7.5% per year, is the creative arts.

The students were hugely engaged by his talk and were disappointed that there was not more time to ask further questions. However, in response to Thomas’s question on who will win the Premiership (Manchester City, of course) he suggested a challenge. If at the beginning of the season the clubs were ranked by their players’ salary bill and at the end of the season by their league position, assess how different the two lists would be. He expected there would be very little difference which is why he thought  Leicester City’s 2016 success was so remarkable.

(For those interested to see the 2017/18 facts, see here: https://www.timesoccer.com/news/premier-league-wage-bills-club-by-club.html )

Head’s Blog: a swim in the Pacific

I took a risk on Friday and asked our Prep School pupils to sit crossed legged on the floor with me, and listen to whales singing in the Pacific Ocean.

We were having our end of week assembly on the idea of the growth mindset and we spent some time thinking not just about the occasions when we say things are too hard or we can’t do something but also those times when we think our work is perfect. There were plenty of nods when I asked the children whether they felt a bit disappointed when they presented what they saw as a perfect piece of work, only to be asked by their teacher to improve it.

One of our Year 6 pupils then quite rightly pointed out that nothing is perfect and work can always be improved. My thunder was stolen!

We went on to think about the power of ‘yet’. For example, ‘ I can’t do this yet’ or ‘I am not quick enough at this yet’, or ‘I can’t get all my spellings right yet’. 

The point was taken. We all need to be unafraid of getting things wrong or finding things difficult. We need to be confident that we will get stronger and more able every day.

We thought too about how a baby develops and of course no baby ever gives up trying to walk or talk.

And then we took a few minutes to silently reflect because at the end of the school day, to think over our lessons helps us assimilate our learning. Boredom makes you brainy!

We sat, spaced apart on the carpet, and closed our eyes. As we listened to the sounds of the ocean and the call of whales, I talked the pupils through an imaginary journey of being a whale swimming in the Pacific. For some it was a bit too different and there were few, inevitable giggles. However, we soon settled and afterwards many of the children talked about really feeling present in the experience. 

It is always a privilege to be part of a young person’s learning journey and to help them discover something new is particularly special. We will continue to make occasional periods of quiet reflection part of the learning journey at Stoke and to swim with whales.

Head’s blog: From Antartica and the Stars to the Operating Theatre and Future Careers

Over the past fortnight we’ve been fortunate to have had two special events in school. The first was a talk given by parent Dr Bond on her time as a research scientist in Antartica. Students talked about it for days afterwards struck by the sheer remoteness of the research base, the dangers involved and particularly how you cope when your tent is blown away! (https://www.bas.ac.uk)

On Thursday we had a visit from the Science Horizons planetarium (https://www.sciencehorizons.co.uk). Our speaker, Mike Culley, erected an inflatable planetarium in the middle of the Sports Hall and every year group had the opportunity of an hour’s talk and display on the solar system and universe beyond.

I joined the Years 5 and 6 as the lights dimmed and watched the stars rotate over our heads as the different constellations were explained. The talk ranged from physics to Roman history as we learnt how the ancient constellations were named. The pupils were riveted.

We look forward to the next visiting science experience in the Spring term when we will have a live operating theatre demonstration!

However, before then, we will be welcoming Lord Triesman to speak on the Future World of Work to our students, parents and invited guests, including pupils of other schools. He will be with us on Wednesday 5th December and will speak at 1:45 pm.

If anyone would like to attend this talk, which is by invitation only, or to bring a school party, please contact Mr Moore at the College. His email is registrar@stokecollege.co.uk

Head’s Blog: Remembrance

Today, with no soldier still living who can remember 11th November 1918, we have reflected again on how much we owe to all those who died before their time so that we could have the freedom and opportunities we enjoy today.

Tomorrow as a school we will gather at the memorial cross in Stoke-by-Clare to reflect on the sacrifice of soldiers who lived here, in this village, over 100 years ago, and who did not come home. We will reflect too on the preciousness of peace and how we can each contribute to a better, future world.

This year, our Art teacher, Mr Reeves, has created a symbolic piece which we will also lay at the stone. Its meaning is described in a previous posting, which you can read below on our Facebook page.

In other news, it was our first week back after half term last week so we all had to switch gear rapidly to adjust to the rapid pace of term time once again. Academic life resumed its brisk pace, and we began our sixth form mentoring programme.

This is another innovation as we develop our sixth form. Each student will meet fortnightly with an academic member of staff to discuss their current progress and their future plans for university, college and career. We will regularly discuss with each student their current challenges, clarify thoughts on their future and we will reflect on the best way to work effectively towards their goals. The meetings will help each sixth former increase their independence and resilience.

Many of our senior scientists travelled to London on Thursday to hear talks from a number of leading scientists. The purposes of the day were to give a deeper insight into science as a profession as well as to connect their learning in the classroom to the application of science in the real world.

At the end of November all our Year 11s and Year 12s will travel again to the capital to attend the ‘Skills London’ event. This will complement the focus they have had on careers education in PSHE this term and, judging on the feedback from last year’s trip, should prove a very useful event for giving our students ideas for what their future careers might be.

As we think on the events of the past this week it is apt that we also think on the opportunities for the future that they have given us.

Puffins created their own tribute

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.


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.