Head’s Blog

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.

Head’s Blog – Christmas Quiz

Students have been rising to the challenge of the Christmas maths problems posed in yesterday’s assembly. Avid Radio 4 Today programme listeners may recognise the questions. The first, solved by Sam in Year 6, is this:

If the True Love in the song ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’ gave away her gifts at a rate of one per day, starting on Christmas Day, on which day would she give away her last gift?

The second, so far unsolved is the following:

Father Christmas travels home to the Arctic every year for his birthday. At sunrise he gets up for a walk. He walks one mile south, one mile east, one mile north and arrives home. On what day was he born?

I have to admit I could only get my answer down to two possible days and then kicked myself when I read the solution. Let’s see if any of the pupils can go one better!

Head’s Blog

A fortnight ago I returned from a week’s trip to China. The main purpose of the visit was to meet agents and help them to understand more deeply the unique character of Stoke College. In turn this helps them find the students who would most benefit from our approach to education and to recommend them to us. As we continue to grow the school we want to ensure that the overseas students who join us have a good understanding of what we are about and therefore settle in quickly and happily to the school.

It was also an eye-opening experience. So much so that I made a slide show for my Economics A level students which you can view here.

I spoke to one young professional who hadn’t used cash for six months! Most of their transactions, including buying from street markets, are done by electronic transfer, person-to-person, using the WeChat app on their smart phones.

It was also striking that in Beijing, which has a huge number of mopeds and motorbikes, every single one is electric. They have little regard for crash helmets, seat-belts or even using lights at night but they seem to sense the additional risk and drive much more slowly and carefully that us Brits.

It is an extraordinary country and travelling by high speed train (295 km/h) between cities leaves HS2 looking somewhat dated already.

It would be an wonderful experience for some of our students to visit China in the future. We are now teaching Chinese up to Year 8 and we hope some might take it for GCSE. A trip in the coming two years would be fantastic for students who may be interested in pursuing Chinese further. I have no doubt that children in the current generation who can speak a bit of Chinese and understand the culture, will be at a great advantage over their peers.

On a different note, it was wonderful to see all the former Year 11 students on Thursday evening, to award them their well-earned GCSE certificates. They are a fine group of young people and both their parents and staff felt very proud of them as we heard Mr Marple describe each of them in turn. As their tutor, Mr Marple knew them very well. His thoughtful and amusing resumé of each of them in turn was well done and much appreciated.

Head’s Blog

Following its great success last year, we are looking forward to the bonfire night and fireworks display this coming Thursday. All parents and Stoke by Clare residents are invited to come and enjoy the spectacular display. Gates opening at 6 pm and refreshments will be provided. In the interests of safety we ask that you do not bring sparklers. We very much hope you can join us.

This Friday we will hold our annual act of remembrance at the village war memorial at 11 am. Anyone who is free would be most welcome to join us at this solemn occasion.

Our next Open Morning is on Saturday 18th November for the Senior School. The response to the September event was very positive, particularly for Year 7 entries for next year. We greatly appreciate the support we have from families in bringing in your daughters and sons on a Saturday morning to help.

We will run the Open Morning for the Prep School separately on Friday 17th November as a more accessible time for younger families. This will be a chance to meet all the staff and pupils of the Prep School. In addition Mrs Milnes will also be available to meet prospective Prep parents on Saturday 18th.