Head’s Blog

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.

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!