Head’s Blog

Head’s Blog: Swan Lake

It was St Augustine who spoke of our hearts being restless. Adam Smith, the father of economics, put it in different terms: Human wants are infinite but resources are scarce.

It is our human nature which leads us to seek change and to look for something new. As I embark upon my last term at Stoke I feel both excitement about the future but also a little regret too that I am doing many things for the last time.

Above all things, time is scarce. It runs out and so we have to seize every day and make it good. 

I saw a film with my family over the summer. It is an old film so I hope I am not spoiling the plot for anyone. It is called About Time, starring Bill Nighy. The message of the film is to see the value in the small things. To take joy in the little, incidental moments that occur in busy and stressful days. To be on the lookout for happiness in the small things.

We went on a trip on Saturday with our full boarders to  Thorpeness, on the coast. I  remember when I first arrived at Stoke Mr and Mrs Burchell recommended it as a fun day out for the family and I am glad finally to have got there.

We had a great time learning to row boats, some doing it for the first time. It was very beautiful and peaceful paddling round the little islands. One swan was very friendly and paddled right up to our boat. Maria and Wendy, two of our new girls, fed it, which was clearly what it wanted. However, that then encouraged an armada of other swans to bear down upon us, all wanting to share the same baguette. 

There was a moment went I wondered if I was going to have to explain to their parents that their beloved daughters had been pecked by greedy water fowl but fortunately the birds were remarkably polite, or perhaps cautious, and didn’t lean into the boat and we got away unscathed.

We then headed down to the beach. We didn’t do much. Just watched the waves, Alice tried to teach me how to write her name in Chinese on the sand, and we threw flat stones into the waves to make them skim. 

The whole day was a series of lovely small moments and it reminded me that all children and young adults are formed by the sum total of their growing up experiences. Every day of happy, shared moments strengthens within them the instinct for happiness in adulthood too. It was a privilege to be a part of that on Saturday and to see how much our boarding team does for our young people.

Head’s Blog: Life’s lows and highs

The past week has been one of lows and highs. On Wednesday, with Chair of Governors, David Cardle, I attended the funeral of fellow ISA Head, David Bown. 

David was Head at St Nicholas School, Harlow and last year was part of the governing board at Stoke, where he offered invaluable advice on the academic side of school life. He was tragically killed during the February half term. I felt a particular empathy with his family and school. David had been a friend at the ISA Heads’ meetings and of course, Stoke too lost John Gibson, whilst he was serving as Head, not so many years ago.

The church in Bishop’s Stortford was packed with family, colleagues, parents of the school and friends. It was a moving service and it was particularly touching to hear verses from Shakespeare’s Cybeline: 

Fear no more the heat o’ the sun

Nor the furious winter’s rages;

Thou thy worldly task hast done,

Home art gone, and ta’en thy wages:

Golden lads and girls all must,

As chimney-sweepers, come to dust.

What also came across was of a life well lived and of a family man and teacher well loved. David was an inspiration to his students and his colleagues and he will be missed.

He would however, want us all to celebrate life and the opportunities we have. There could not have been a more joyful and happier contrast than the performances of Grease at the Haverhill Arts Centre on Thursday and Friday.

Our own golden lads and lasses brought a huge amount of joy, happiness and entertainment to packed houses of parents, staff and the general public.

I am sure we have said this many times before but it is truly astonishing how much talent there is at Stoke. But perhaps this is true of all schools? Perhaps the difference is that at Stoke many more are prepared to brave the stage and achieve something they never thought they could do.

Amazingly, some of our lead performers had never been on stage before. Their singing, choreography and acting were, nevertheless, outstanding.

Behind the scenes the stage crew and technical teams did fantastic work too and the music group, consisting of students and staff, brought a live performance to life.

There were many supporters both technically and financially and I would like to thank them all again. Most of all I would like to thank the staff at the centre of the production: Miss Tudge, Mrs Peacock and Miss Davey. As a team they helped the students achieve something really special and gave them a confidence they will carry forward with them for the rest of their lives.

Head’s Blog: social media etiquette

Social media has been much in the news recently. Facebook and its ancillary companies ,YouTube and Instagram, in particular are now under much more pressure to take active responsibility for the content they provide a platform for.

The live streaming of the tragic events in New Zealand last week followed rapidly in the wake of a number of critical stories already in the press about how the tech giants must be more active in controlling the content of what is posted on their sites.

Last week at Stoke, we had an assembly about social media etiquette. Whilst it is essential that the role of the big tech firms evolves quickly, it is just as important that each of us manages our own interactions online.

We covered not only the danger of strangers online but also looking after our own mental health and how to avoid the hurt we can give to others by making critical comments, which on reflection would have been much better either left unsaid or discussed face to face. 

We looked at how public figures are increasingly being called to account for comments and pictures they posted many years ago but have now come back to dog their careers.

Young people are certainly becoming more ‘savvy’ about how to look after themselves online and it is true that social media can also bring many benefits. However, in this modern age, it is essential to learn fast. A single mistake may never truly be forgotten and could turn up in an employer’s Google search many years from now. An unkind and ill-judged comment can cause an online conversation to spin out of control, leaving everyone in the conversation, including the writer of the comment, feeling upset and unhappy.

I thought, therefore, I would leave you with four top tips given by a university student on how to manage your social media presence online.

Head’s Blog: Sense and Scent Ability

We all know how annoying it is as parents when parts of our children’s school uniform go missing. Finding lost jumpers can be tricky, particularly if they are not name tagged.

I listened to Saturday Live on Radio 4 yesterday morning. Listeners were calling in, responding to the interview with scent entrepreneur, Jo Malone, whose sense of smell is extraordinary. One Mum rang in to say that when her son was at Primary School, his class teacher always called on him to identify lost property.

Apparently, with one sniff, he was able to identify to which classmate any item of lost clothing belonged to. Jumpers left in the playground were always restored to their rightful owners, name tagged or not. I presume, however, the line was drawn at football boots!

Jo Malone’s story is extraordinary. She grew up dealing with profound dyslexia, educated at a school that did not believe in her and which did not have the resources to help her. As you often hear in stories of success, a young person has had to decide to fight back against the lack of belief in them and then they meet someone who gives them a break.

Jo Malone has just published her autobiography and she tells, not only of her tough journey to success but also of her battle with cancer, where she lost her greatest talent – her ability to smell – and her perfume company. I won’t spoil the story but needless to say she found a way to fight back again.

Listening to her reminded me of more than one conversation I had at Year 9 Parents’ Evening last Wednesday. Parents were speaking to Ms Davey for advice on how to get their daughter or son to read. One point we agreed on was that students needed to be inspired to read and an autobiography about someone you can identify with and admire, may just do the trick. This is particularly true if you also have to live with dyslexia, as it is harder work to read for pleasure.

I wouldn’t normally promote a particular product but it struck me on Saturday morning that Jo Malone’s journey from childhood, where she struggled at school, to success, then to disaster and then through to the other side; is just the sort of story which is compelling enough to make it worth the effort to read.

With World Book Day coming up this Thursday, if you are wondering what you might buy to encourage a teenage, reluctant reader, an autobiography such as Jo Malone’s might just do the trick.

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 [email protected]