Head’s Blog

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.


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.