Help is needed across the globe…

As our charity weeks of activity commence at Claires Court, sadly it seems we have disasters requiring support across the globe. Being proactive in our help not just facilitates the support services now to be further resourced, but helps reuilding the resilience of local communities as well as their reserves of physical items and safety of their families.

The photo above shows Malawians in Blantyre impacted by Storm Freddy. A great colleague, friend and former pupil Charlie Bretherton is leading from the front to rebuild his school and wider community – if you can, please do help, a huge, epic crisis.

The link below goes to the Bretherton family’s Go Fund Me page –

Malwai is one of the great British Empire colonies and now member of the British Commonwealth. As Britain choses to ease its support of its former colonies, it leaves the country prey to the attractions offered by other world powers, such as China. Now indebted to the Chinese, the Malawi government needs all the help it can get, and the UK’s influence is 3rd only behind USA and South Africa. You can read a sensible scholarly article on the current state of the nation here.

I am very much in the camp of invest now in Foreign Aid to reduce the longer term calls on our country’s generosity when displaced refugees make it through to migration at Dover. We have for example almost 400 doctors and nurses from Malawi, and schools such as Hillview International school, where Charlie is headteacher are providing amazing routes to academic success that in the long term will benefit both English speaking nations. Here’s his voice from their website:

I am delighted to welcome you to our school. At Hillview International School we offer, with pride, an exceptional education from Pre-Nursery through to IGCSE, in which individual and community relationships are cultivated, where innovative learning platforms and pedagogies are used and where values and character are nurtured alongside academic development.

As the only single streamed school in the Blantyre area, we offer low student/teacher ratios and excellent levels of individual attention within a beautiful campus allowing a seamless transition from Nursery to Primary and High School.

At Hillview we aim to provide exceptionally high standards of education in line with the National Curriculum of England and the Cambridge International Curriculum. Our sporting and club experiences are designed to challenge and delight children.

Our Nursery, Primary and High Schools are a mix of modern and traditional well equipped and spacious classrooms, with a focus on developing the whole child’s potential through exciting learning, sports and family inclusion, ensuring children are at the heart of all we do. With our caring and dedicated staff teams, supportive governors and involved parents we have created a happy and engaging place to work and learn.

Please do not hesitate to get in touch for an opportunity to meet, visit the school or enquire more about our schools and their facilities.

I look forward to meeting you and welcoming you into the Hillview family.

Mr Charlie Bretherton, Principal

Posted in Possibly related posts | Leave a comment

Announcing the relocation of our Junior girls onto the Junior boys site to create Claires Court Juniors at Ridgeway

Our fundamental aim for Claires Court has always been to ensure parity of education, opportunity and equality through the breadth of the curriculum and our teaching practice. To oversee this in the primary phase, last year we promoted Mrs Kirby to the new position of Head of Juniors (Boys, Girls and Nursery). Since then, together with her leadership team, she has successfully developed the junior curriculum including forest school opportunities, increasing the mixed sporting fixtures played and offering joint educational off-site visits. 

We have now reached an exciting point where, with the junior curriculum  united, we can accommodate both boys and girls to share the same space as well.  After discussion with Mrs Kirby, our intention is therefore to relocate Junior Girls to the Junior Boys site at Ridgeway from the start of the Autumn Term, September 2023. The Nursery, Senior Girls and the Sixth Form will remain at College Avenue and Senior Boys at Ray Mill Road East by the river. The current space used by Junior Girls will be allocated to the growing needs of our Senior Girls and Sixth Form and all our school sites will continue to benefit from future investment and improvements.

Future developments 

From September 2023, our new Reception classes will be coeducational with both boys and girls taught together. We will continue to teach your child/ren in a single sex capacity until they leave the school in Year 6 and we aim for Claires Court Juniors to be fully coeducational from 2029.  Senior Boys and Senior Girls will remain gender separated and there are no plans to alter this or the arrangements for the coed Nursery and Sixth Form.

What changes will there be for my child?

We know this may come as a surprise to you and we want to reassure you that there will be no change to your child’s education. The only difference will be the space they learn in and they will now share social times such as break, lunch, pre and post school activities.  


Our staffing and leadership structure will not change as a result of this move and you will have the chance to meet the teachers who will be teaching your children across the curriculum in due course.  


We will undertake a review of our uniform, aided by both pupils and parents. The likely timeline for this is to start during the next Academic Year (2023/24) for full introduction in 2025.

Practical Matters

We know that there will be many questions so please join Mrs Kirby on an online Google Meet at 1pm on Wednesday 1 March (this will also be recorded for those who cannot join).  Please can any questions be sent in advance (by the end of Monday 27 February) to and Mrs Kirby will endeavour to answer them for you online.  If you would prefer to speak to us, or a member of the leadership team, to discuss any individual circumstances,  please contact the same email address and Mrs Aquilina will arrange a convenient time.  

For information in advance, Mrs Kirby will be covering;

  1. The planned integration of both boys and girls together
  2. Practical information; Drop off/pick up arrangements, changing facilities, extra curricular activities and uniform 
  3. Classroom developments
  4. A date for parents to visit 

Mrs Kirby will be personally announcing this news to our junior pupils tomorrow (Friday, 24 February) in special assemblies. She will explain how we will support the transition to learning together and answer any questions that the children have.

As many of you will know, our previous plan was to move all our operations on to a new campus at Ridgeway. Although this was denied, our strategic aim still remains in that we would like to educate the Juniors on the same site together.  Coupled with a changing market and an expressed wish for a coed environment at this level, we are fortunate to have the capacity and agility to respond to this exciting opportunity. 

On Thursday evening, the Principals broadcast the above content to the school staff body, and we are so delighted with the overwhelmingly positive reception our news has bring…

Hugh Wilding, Administrative Principal James Wilding, Academic Principal

Posted in Possibly related posts | Leave a comment

Calling for fundraising support for the victims of the terrible Earthquake in Turkey and Syria

A family in our community run a brilliant bakery and coffee shop in Maidenhead. They have family, friends and relatives in the region affected by the recent earthquake. I am pleased to share this with you all. Please be generous.

“Dear Mr. Wilding,

I wanted to get in touch with you asking for a potential help from Claires Court Schools for our fund raising event at bakedd artisan bakery for the people who are suffering from the recent earthquake that happened in East part of Turkey.

As we have posted on our social media and announced on BBC Berkshire and Maidenhead Advertiser, we will be organising a fund raiser event at bakedd tomorrow and we will donate all our sales proceeds to a non profit charity called Ahbap ( who are helping the people in need.

I would like to ask if you would be able to execute a donation event like Free Jeans day at Claires Court Schools to help us spread the word and help to create more donations for us to send to Turkey.

We are planning to send all the donations and the sales proceeds by Monday next week, that’s why it is such a short notice.

Thanks for your kind help in advance.”

And 24 hours later, Emre is able to post:


This is what happened @bakedd yesterday🙏🙏🙏
We don’t know where to start ….

First of all we would like to thank our team for their outstanding efforts and their generous contributions to our donation campaign. To YOU our wonderful bakedd community who have not left us alone since the day we opened, You are all AMAZING!!! To our friends, to everyone who heard our interview on the radio and came to donate, to the owner of @riodeli2020 who unexpectedly handed us an envelope with a smiling face, to our young friends at @popeyesgrooming who would support us whenever we needed them, To @wessexpharmacy , to @prestoitalian , to Mr Wilding from @clairescourtschool ,@woodfloorjunkie In total we raised 🌟£8683.40🌟through our sales proceeds and the generous donations yesterday !!!!! We will keep the donation box on our counter until Saturday and send all the money to @ahbap charity on Monday…
Gul & Emre & Serdar

Posted in Possibly related posts | Leave a comment

Reach for the Nomination…The Lexden Prize for Sixth Formers

The Lexden Prize, named in honour of our Honorary President, Lord Lexden, celebrates the most remarkable sixth form students at ISA members’ schools. Their achievements can be in any aspect of school or community life, and do not have to be academic. All ISA Members’ schools are invited to nominate one student for the prize. Nominations must be made by a member of school staff, and include a short nomination statement, and a personal statement by the nominee. There is also space to include a file or link to a piece of supporting evidence of the students’ achievements.

Here at Claires Court, we have 150 Sixth Formers, and it’s obviously invidious for the grown-ups to reach in and anoint our choice without reference to the individuals themselves, With many with great academic strengths, others with extraordinary sporting prowess, Henley champions, Rugby England Sough West squad selections, still more with great generosity in their volunteering or shining as in a new found country as refugees from war.

Across the school, this year’s theme has been ‘Be the best you can be’. The tag line has caused a few wobbles internally, such as one young soul sighing remoresffully ‘I don’t know what my best looks like yet’. Group activities, whether in the classroom, on the playing fields, in the CCF all help stretch the individual beyond their knowledge, but over the last 12 months, 2 incredible students stepped for war to meet the challenge posed by Harvard and MIT universities to join a cohort of young leaders across the planet to ‘Take the World Forward’.

The ‘Take the World Forward’ Fellowship is the vision of Harvard combined with the spark of MIT, a project committed to building the next generation of problem solvers. The Fellows invited to participate were hand picked bright minds, selected following a rigorous process of application and interview. Ciara and Reni, Year 12 students at the time, applied and were chosen to join this exciting programme. Their task – to identify, brainstorm and solve some of the biggest challenges of today and tomorrow with the guidance of illustrious IVY league mentors. 

Ciara’s project focused on the experience of reoffenders trapped in the US penal system while Reni researched and recommended increasing girls’ access to education in Africa. Both our students met with their peers from all over the world in online meets to discuss and shape solutions to these issues and are still in contact with them now.The TWF project required funding, and our own PTA Foundation were generously able to meet those costs to permit the students to engaged. Both are to present their findings at the PTA am on 3 March.

Reni and Ciara remain part of the Harvard and MIT international network and are regularly invited to attend seminars and courses on current global issues. Both have developed more sophisticated research skills and having interviewed subjects better understand both the interviewer and interviewee roles. Ciara commented that her project prompted her to choose to apply to study criminology at undergraduate level and include some of her project findings in her personal statement. Both students agree, the opportunity has helped shape their futures and equipped them with invaluable transferable skills.

Over the past 5 years, we’ve been fortunate enough to be able to nominate 3 amazing students to join the Lexden Roll of honour. In 2021, Owen Mashingaidze’s nomination was successful, in 2020 Georgia Carmichael’s and in 2019 Todd Muil’s. All 3 had great strengths but in very many different ways. I feel absolutely certain that in 2023 we will find ourselves in a similar position, but … it is of course the individual student’s choice to create their submission. At this stage, whilst we gather the range of applicant’s the students submit their application to the Principal’s and Headteacher’s by their email to Mrs Hall in the Sixth Form office.

Let the applications commence…

Posted in Possibly related posts | Leave a comment

February calling… Looking forward with the green shoots of spring…

Friday 27 January 2023 and the BBC announced on the radio this morning that I needed to find an hour over the next 3 days to have a look out for the birds in my back yard. Below is the full RSPB announcement together with a link to their webpage.

Big Garden Birdwatch long weekend is here! There’s still time to sign-up and take part. Just spend one hour between Friday 27 and Sunday 29 January counting the birds, and help monitor how birds are faring. It’s free, fun and a great way to keep an eye on your local wildlife. Wherever you are, whatever you see, it counts!

I’ll add my findings at the close of Sunday, but in the first look out of the Head’s office window today (it was just after first break) over 100 seagulls and 2 Red kites had landed to clear the yard of the discarded Bacon rolls and other breakfast snacks vended through the canteen.Not that I am going to inform the RSPB of this school yard survey, I am mindful that the numbers could be down, because our avian friends have been facing a similar viral epidemic against which they have little resistance, without the help of face masks, hand sanitisers and vaccinations. Whilst I jest really, this is a serous matter and I have my fingers crossed that despite the frost and cold, the song birds do make a decent showing over the Birdwatch period.

Data, Teaching and Relationships are three critical Schoolwatch features that assist me in judging the health, vitality and optimism in my school at this time. We’ve just had to complete both the DfE and ISC census figures, conjoined to ensure our sector is able to get the very best data set to compare contrast and inform its plans for the future. Providing the data is mandatory, and it is pretty granular too, providing bags of evidence to check the 2 sectors against each other, as well as to provide for some useful in-house comparisons. I’ll report back on the census information once it is published in some months time, though I am pretty confident it will show our school in a very good light once more, for the sheer breadth of the provision and services we offer, at a remarkably cost-effective price for a school of such serious, professional standing.

Next week for 10 days is Teacherwatch in our school, with every teacher observing another teacher’s lesson and then giving them feedback on same in swift measure. Of course the observation will have a focus, and there will be good, bad and interesting things seen. To say that my colleagues are excited about it is perhaps stretching the concept, but actually that’s pretty close to the mark – we honestly love teaching and talking about it, and sparing the time to feedback to a colleague in a manic period of 8/9 days when everyone is doing the same will generate a high degree of professional advancement for many if not all. We might have some glitches along the way, and some missed opportunities, but recalling eggs and shells, let’s bring it on!!!

The worst thing about winter for everyone is that, apart from Christmas, the season can get you down. We’ve just waved cheerio to Blue Monday last week, allegedly when individuals in the Northern Hemisphere are at their lowest ebb. Good news of course, because the next Blue Monday is 350+ days away and we have the lengthening days, the lighter mornings & evenings and the sights and sounds of spring to cheer us up. One of the most important tricks in the successful teacher’s hand is to use ruthless and relentless optimism whist children are in their care. “What could possibly go wrong” I am heard to call out at the start of the school day, and verily whilst almost anything could the vast majority of the cogs in the complex wheel of school whirr by without a hiccup. Why even the latest meteorite has just passed us cleanly by “Asteroid 2023 BU: Space rock passes closer than some satellites” without fuss!

To close, schools may be all about work and progress, but actually our institutions are all about building great relationships, created in their best form when individuals know their purpose, understand the key principles of life being a team game, and for the young people in our care, knowing they can enjoy their childhood too. Yes, I am definitely ‘done with January, ‘calling for February’, and in the meantime looking for every sign of a warming of the environment to encourage our bulbs to flower, and perhaps even more importantly, to feel the cockles of our hearts warming too.

And if course my prose hasn’t helped you, here’s a poem, Joy of the Fireplace by Yorkshire Prose that will surely do the trick!

Posted in Possibly related posts | Leave a comment

Welcome Back School – A New Year dawns!

Visitors to my blog are asked to check out the 2 recent posts over the break, the first highlighting the strong contribution our school makes within the education space known as STEAM, the second the challenge we are faced with ‘Influencers’ informing adult & adolescent opinions.

Claires Court’s school population for 6 January 2023 shows we have 962 children on roll, taught by 127 teachers, 10 nursery staff, supported by 35 assistants and with a further complement of 192 administration, household and grounds staff. These numbers don’t include our sessional staff supporting Holiday activities, or of course the allied trades provided by our bus services, the myriad of electricians, builders, plumbers or the knock effects through our purchasing of food, goods and services down the supply chain. As an educational provider, we remain the largest proprietorial school in England (and the UK), and are part of the 1388 schools who belong to the Independent Schools Council (ISC).

Oxford Economics undertook a study for ISC assessing the impact of independent schools on the UK economy in 2021, and quantifying the associated taxpayer savings. You can find the whole report here, but the headlines are as follows:

Taking direct, supply chain (‘indirect’), and wage-funded expenditure (‘induced’) impacts into account, ISC schools were found to have contributed £14.1 billion to the ‘gross value added’ measure of UK production (GVA) in that year. This was associated with 282,000 jobs, and £4.3 billion in UK tax revenues of all kinds. All UK independent schools are estimated to have supported £16.5 billion in GVA, 328,000 jobs, and £5.1 billion in taxation, through the three channels of impact.

Within those totals, the direct GVA of the ISC schools themselves amounted to £6.9 billion, associated with 152,000 jobs, and £2.0 billion in taxes—mostly income tax and National Insurance Contributions on employee wages, and unrefunded VAT on purchases of business supplies and capital projects. All of these figures would have been even higher had it not been for the restrictions on activity caused by the Covid pandemic, which resulted in fee discounts and reduced school spending.

In addition to the tax revenues generated, independent schools are estimated to have saved the UK taxpayer £4.4 billion in 2021, as a result of educating almost 540,000 pupils who would otherwise have been eligible for a UK state school place. The ISC school share of that total was £3.8 billion, relating to some 460,000 eligible pupils.

Some final notes on Claires Court’s position as an independent school. We are not a registered charity, and thus gain no taxation benefits as critics our our sector claim. We pay corporation tax on our profits, we pay full business rates and so there is no loss either locally or nationally to the exchequer. Readers will be aware that there are proposals out with the Labour Party to change the charging rules for Education services from being VAT exempt, and thus suggest at some time in the future private school fees will have VAT added. It’s clear from most of the reportage I have seen on such proposals is that a government that went down this route would start playing a Zero sum game.. This means that many of the current subscribers to independent education would no longer be able to afford our fees, as a consequence returning to the state sector and adding costs to that sector for their return whilst at the same time the exchequer would not see the expected increase in VAT returns as the costs for educating in the state are higher than the vat returns once levied on private school fees.

Posted in Possibly related posts | Leave a comment

Education Matters – 2023: “Consider the influencers – Obama, Pelé and Tate”

Well, strike a light! Back in January 1981, when I first stepped up to run Claires Court Senior Boys, I’d never had guessed that 42 years on, I would still be looking forward with great anticipation the New Year ahead at school. Many of my old friends in Education think I am bonkers by the way, having themselves stepped down into retirement. But there are enough informed voices out there reminding me that there remains a good job for experienced practitioners in schools to stay put and provide a voice for education that does not necessarily just promise something new, silver bullet shaped and untested.

Below I include 3 items of specific interest on people who have influenced the world we live in: 1. Advice to parents from Michelle Obama on parenting 2. A tribute to ‘Pelé’, a man whose life exemplified the very best individual values as well as one who gave remarkable service to his country and 3. a cautionary tale to parents on influencers coming down the ‘Spotify’ tubes!

Michelle Obama’s recently published book, ‘The Light We Carry‘, makes a really good attempt at positioning the reader as a parent growing up as the main caregiver for the children whilst her husband Barak seeks to rise up the political ranks. I was particularly taken by Libby Purves’ own take on the book in her Times column, and the quotes she takes from Mrs Obama are hysterical – try this one on the joys of Toddlers:

Grappling with the Christmas sugar-rush insurgency, wrestling small molten lumps of rage into wellington boots and manoeuvring spoons towards defiant little mouths, I suspect most families with small children were encouraged and amused by Michelle Obama’s breezy definition of toddlers as “terrorists” — demanding, irrational and needy, however much you love them.

Or this one on the Joys of co-parenting:

She made it even better by saying that for one fraught decade she “couldn’t stand” her husband Barack, who was powering on towards the Senate while she clung on to her own legal career and did more than half the childcare. She cited outraged wifely remarks like: “You’re going out? Where? You’re GOLFING?

Purves highlights even more importantly the recognition that Obama gave to the difficulties of dealing with her children when entering their adolescent years:

She spoke of her effort to ensure that despite their weird White House years, her daughters Sasha and Malia emerged with the ability to make ordinary friends, take a bus and find their way about. But more universal was her scorn for mothers and fathers who meet rebellious cries of “I hate you, you’re ruining my life!” with anxiety, as if trying to be a friend, not a parent. The Obama response is robust, apparently: “Go away, think that in your own room. I don’t need you to like me — I GOT friends!

And finally, Libbty Purves points to Mrs Obama’s advice on shielding your child “When you constantly shield a child from feeling fear you are stopping them from ever feeling competent”. As for the small but intense trials of childhood, those black furies at unfairness we all remember and proudly relate to our therapists, Mrs Obama said flatly: “Kids have to learn how to live with unfairness and unhappiness. They have to learn it in their own house. Their first bout of unfairness shouldn’t be at school. Or when they’re 30 . . . ”.

What is so important to convey is that the symptoms of childhood and adolescence are just that – to be expected and managed, rather than medicalised and pathologised. The last thing I wish to suggest is that mental health difficulties for all of us are not ‘imagined’, but what is so important is to use the body’s own coping mechanisms and those of the supporting family members to manage them, rather than to seek old or new fashioned remedies of alcohol, nicotine, food and ‘prescription’alternative’ drugs to change an adolescent’s mindset for the better.

Where the unfolding of the life and times of Edson Arantes do Nascimento, known across the world as ‘Pelé’ has added to the mix, is that clear demonstration that talent and hardwork are a magic combination. I am fortunate enough to remember seeing Pelé in his prime, through the arrival of colour TV in time for the World Cup in Mexico 1970. So much has been written about Pelé in the past, but time having moved on, it’s only his recent death that has brought his exploits back into sharp focus. Firstly, he became the first world wide sportsman, and led the elevation of football to the world-wide status it enjoyed from 1970 onwards. Pelé was born into poverty, and helped to make family ends meet by working in tea shops. He learned to play football with a grapefruit or ball of newspaper in a sock; whilst his footballing father’s support was invaluable, it was a former Brazilian national player, de Brito who mentored him from age 14, bringing his young talents to the attention of leading football clubs in Sao Paulo, calling the boy out as being ‘the greatest living footballer in the world”. After making his mark as a talented 15 year old, his career advanced rapidly and at age 17, he was selected for the Brazil national team in time for the 1958 Word Cup. His 6 goals, including a great hat trick to defeat France in the semi-finals made his fame permanent! He has set so many records, in terms of goals scored, titles won, as well as the longevity of his physical contribution to the sport, his demeanour as a man who played by the rules yet whose skills took him outside of the expected mechanics of play caused all to celebrate his contribution being named as ‘The greatest player of the 20th century’. His demeanour, his ongoing legacy of dignity and willingness to remain subordinate the sport for whom he became an iconic ambassador are ones he leaves as a legacy for other world stars to consider, indeed

Andrew Tate (The King of Toxic Masculinity) is one of many modern day influencers who has been able to develop a cult on the internet, following his career as a kick boxer and most recently because of his advocacy of extreme, misogynistic views and his outreach work amongst teenage boys via social media platforms, part of the ‘Manosphere’ collection of spaces, such as blogs, forums and websites, promoting masculinity and misogyny, and opposing feminism. The Manosphere includes communities such as Incels, pickup artists (PUA) and Men Going Their Own Way (MGTOW). Tate is currently in the news because of his arrest in Romania, together with his brother Tristan, on human sex-trafficking allegations. Other powerful figures in this space include Joe Rogan, steering his post TV career into a multi-million dollar salary via Spotify, for whom his podcast currently tops their streaming billing. Many commentators are worried about Rogan, because of his careless attitude to material facts and because he restates those lies so often, his audience can be forgiven for believing them to be true. Perhaps even more sinister is the clear entrapment online by neo-nazis of the British teenage Rhiannan Rudd, who took her own life earlier this year following her arrest and charge for terrorism offences, the BBC now breaking the news of the decision by the Home Office that she had been a victim of exploitation. What worries professionals and parents alike about the INCEL culture is that its advocates like Tate are playing to the weaknesses and lack of confidence that so many teenagers have and giving them wholly false or ‘fake’ reasons that confirm their lack of worth, and strengthening their bonds to this negative culture.

Whilst in the past we have had such strange wacky ideas recruit people to cults, the arrival of so many available influencers on the internet and available via Spotify and chat zones in games such as Minecraft makes it clear that we need to work hard to provide plenty of counter-narratives and put them on show to promote positive attitudes and emphasise current societal norms. You can’t ban this current wave any more than parents could the Beatles and the Rolling Stones in the ’60s, which welcomed in the arrival of hedonistic (for the time) pleasure and counter-culture views that rocked American and European society, and introducing us to mass protest movements of which perhaps Woodstock was the most famous.

Given the sheer explosion of Influencers providing lengthy podcasts to all and sundry, there is absolutely no way parents can stay up with the teenage ‘vibe’ for information and discussion in so many areas of absolute fascination for them. The Spotify podcast list 2022 shows that Joe Rogan is still at number 1, but that previous Ted Talks (2) The New York Times ‘Daily’ (3) and Michelle Obama (4) have been relegated behind Call her Daddy vlog (now at 2) hosted by Alex Cooper, providing some pretty deep insights into personal activities of friends and fellow stars, which are magnetically attractive to teenagers wanting to learn more about sex, life and their universe. What parents and schools must do is to find the time to awaken their knowledge of what their children are engaging in, re-take an interest in what is coming down the tubes and influencing their children’s thinking. Best perhaps to make sure that the adults provide conversation and regather normality for what our ‘real’ world looks like and how their sons and daughters can join them to participate. In short, remember Michelle Obama’s anger at Barak going off to play golf – and if you have a date with your golf clubs, consider taking your children with you to gather that life skill along the way!

Posted in Possibly related posts | Leave a comment

Lessons from STEAM

This article was written as a consequence to the visit I entertained at Claires Court Senior Boys, involving a delegation from the Ministry of Education, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia – 16 December 2022

One of the many interests I any my colleagues have is the promotion to third parties of the solutions we have as a school settled upon, in part because sharing experiences almost always gives value to the donor as much as they do to the recipient.

When UK colleagues in an ISA school, King Fahad Academy, West London reached out to Claires Court, to facilitate a visit from a Ministry of Education, Saudi Arabia delegation into Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM for short), my school was delighted to welcome their party of 9 interested educators and planners. Right from the start of our planning for their visit, we included Arts as well (Art, Design and Music) so we fitted our own ‘take’ on this challenge (STEAM) and added Library Services and Sports in addition, represented by senior colleagues who directly influence our engagement with technology to improve learning outcomes in the school. During their visit, we were accompanied by Ian Nairn & Paul Farrell of C-Learning, who have supported our journey into the use of AI with Merlyn Mind, and Jeremy Waters & Andrew Blackie of Elastik, one of the more remarkable diagnostic tools now available to schools to identify gaps in learning, where they came from and how best to address them.

Claires Court has explored many potential technologies over the decades, most recently including the Veo sports camera which we use to live stream our 1st team Rugby matches. The various GPS devices we use on players and on boats enables us to ‘see’ at the individual level what athletes (and equipment) is doing at any given time, and ensure the feedback gets back to the athletes, if not in real time at least as soon after the event, so they can relate to the data given and respond accordingly. That’s very much what The software Accelerated Reader does the same for Library services and our readers in school, in its own way of course, and I quote from their website “From recognizing students’ achievements to students discovering new interests, Accelerated Reader helps create a culture of reading through choice.

Our visiting delegates were able to see at first hand projects that the various departments have currently under way. Lydia Lowry, Head of Science at Senior Boys demonstrated the 3D printer the STEM club are currently building, whilst in front of her is a papier mache corpse into which are soon to be embedded some mechanical organs for testing for vital life signs.

What was particularly interesting to my staff was to be challenged on ‘where they gathered the ideas from’, as if there exists some kind of easy to reach directory for STEM projects in schools. In our view, the fundamental joy of teaching to our own, designed curriculum as that we can explore ideas in new ways as the students’ interests take us. Head of Biology, Sadia Mirza highlights the point well by showing how we are teaching genetics in a way to stimulate the imaginations of emerging teenage geneticists by using Dragons as our target species.

There was no doubt that the Saudi delegation were particularly impressed by the obvious empowerment as sector professionals our teachers are given to ensure children ask questions to explore solutions, rather than ‘receive’ teaching from which their knowledge can be tested. Below shows some great examples of how we do that using Art & Design, from the sheer productivity evident in a year 10 GCSE sketch book, through examples of furniture designed for my office by Year 7 using Memphis Design approach, and demonstrating how workshop practice is an essential element for creating ‘maker spaces’.

Overarching Head of Technology & ICT André Boulton in his workshop, where radio control cars meet wood stool design.

The delegation spent the whole morning in school with our scientists & technologists, supported with Music (Nick Wolstencroft), Sport (Tom Jost), Google services & their integration into school (Paul Robson), and ICT (Malcolm Weier). I do believe the Ministry major take away was that STEAM is not a bolt-on, something that can be added to the education offer to improve awareness and practical skills, despite the very obvious value of such outcomes alone. In our view, STEAM describes the permissions that need to be given to students (and teachers of course) to acquire the skills so that they willingly engage in meaningful learning activities, ones that involve asking questions, taking thoughtful risks and work through the creative process. Clearly their activities will include taking risks and failure, embrace collaboration such that problems are solved, and inevitably that ‘things are made’!

All the above needs teachers who have been given the time and space to learn how best to develop their STEAM practice so that the children’s education meets modern demands of progress and examination success. A lot of that time and space is given by the very technologies we are embracing along the way. C-Learning’s decade+ support of our learning journey to cloud-based technological solutions has been a major influence for good, providing trustworthy chromebooks that last a student’s time in school as well as an ecosystem that requires max security from little fuss, increasingly supported by AI classroom assistance. Where teachers’ time in the future will be saved too is through the use of diagnostic assessments such as those covered by Elastik’s AI, reducing marking time for teachers to the minimum yet highlighting where the gaps in learning are, so that revision and skill development take place efficiently and without a blame process. In the end, where technology has helped school as much as anything is in its capacity to lead improvement without fuss; nothing puts off a learner more than unreasoned failure, and yet it is through repetition and correcting mistakes that the most effective learning happens, developing in turn the student’s willingness to learn more!!!

Posted in Possibly related posts | 1 Comment

Why does the Public Estate need both support and challenge? Is this true of Education as well?

Executive summary

The current national provision of education in England is in the same degree of crisis as is the provision of health & social care or justice & prison services, the management of our water supply & sewage services, the complex ecosystem of domestic and business energy supply and of course the chaos within national transport systems. Now is not the time to choose one of our country’s greatest successes (and international exports), UK Independent Schools education, and break that too. 

Education & the Public Estate

The Independent sector in education is diverse, covering the breadth of childcare needs and schooling for those of privilege, for those who aspire, and those who are most disabled in our society. Without our sector, we simply would not have sufficient nursery, schooling (boarding or day), expert music, ballet, dance or special needs settings for the country. Our existence both compliments and supplements those services that should be available for local families who have children, and if access to those services were freely available, then our sector would not represent 84% of childcare, 7% of school places age 5-16, 25% of the Sixth Form market. Whilst I do not know the %, the existence of almost 800 independent schools providing very specialist educational, medical and therapeutic services highlights just how important our existence is to meet current demand in the UK. By even more specific example here in RBWM, over 20% of the children are privately educated in schools at any given time, though certainly not for every age and stage. The 3 state nurseries across the borough are supplemented by dozens of independent providers (there simply would be no capacity otherwise), and whilst we have 2 very specialist SEN state schools, in addition we have a private school which covers a different need, one for those with social, emotional and developmental trauma related difficulties, opened only 10 years ago and now a national beacon for its provision. Whilst it charges fees for its schooling it provides, almost all its revenue comes from adjacent local authorities, being the only setting suitable for the children concerned.

Of course I understand that our sector has come under particularly careful scrutiny, having seen the antics of the ‘chumocracy’ that has imbued Downing Street’s decision making over the last decade, with the various politicians concerned linked to their former schools and colleges. Those ‘great public schools’ may very well have educated the politicians concerned, but the vast majority of products that come from our sector cannot be tarred with the same brush. The problems education in England has are deep and diverse, further exacerbated in Scotland and Wales, and the cause is certainly not the presence or indeed existence of Private schools.

Nursery & childcare crisis

One of our national charities, Children England, acts as a voice for the children young people and families voluntary sector, promoting the sector’s interest and ensuring its views are heard in national and local decision making structures which have a bearing on work with children and families. It has this to say about the current state of play in the nursery sector: “In 2016, the OECD highlighted that a market-based approach to childcare leaves public authorities with less control over fees and less control over when and where services are provided. It identified that market dynamics can result in for-profit providers drifting away from less profitable areas, so that very young children in poorer neighbourhoods are sometimes left without any provision at all.  This is certainly the case in England, where childcare is of high cost but relatively poor quality, as noted by the OECD. High-quality childcare is often only available to wealthier families because access to high quality provision is constrained by income and location. The regulatory framework focuses on how childcare is provided but not on its quality; it does not have a responsibility to ensure equality of access for children and parents or ensure fair terms and conditions for childcare workers. As a result, the childcare system is characterised by inequalities of access, poor quality, financial instability and poor working conditions. In September 2021, during the Westminster Hall debate on the call for an independent review into the cost and affordability of childcare in England, Steve Brine MP (Conservative Chair of APPG on Childcare and Early Education) spoke of ‘market failure in this sector’ and ‘urgent need for reform’.1

Education & reform

One of the most notable features of the current state education landscape is that the various reforms over the last 30 years have ended up with a smorgasbord of provision.  Here is one summary from the Finnish educator, Pasi Sahlberg writing 10 years ago in 2012 “In the UK, 30 years of these reforms has led to layer upon layer of change and a degree of complexity that could conceivably take at least another 30 years to unravel, even assuming that the ‘powers that be’ think this necessary. We now have a UK education system which has shifted to decentralisation with over 70 different types of schools, whilst at the same time increasing centralisation through the introduction of the national curriculum and increased testing.”

And what the academic researchers looking at what Finland have reported is that its undoubted success in education is because its schools have avoided the standardisation of curriculum activities to match PISA assessments, the implementation of high stakes testing and the homogeneity of learning materials from global providers as seen almost everywhere else. Sahlberg calls this common way of improvement “The Global Educational Reform Movement or GERM. It is like an epidemic that spreads and infects education systems through a virus. It travels with pundits, media and politicians. Education systems borrow policies from others and get infected. As a consequence, schools get ill, teachers don’t feel well, and kids learn less.”2

GERM infections have various symptoms and occur across multiple industries not just education, though here is Sahlberg again “The first symptom is more competition within education systems. Many reformers believe that the quality of education improves when schools compete against one another. In order to compete, schools need more autonomy, and with that autonomy comes the demand for accountability. School inspections, standardized testing of students, and evaluating teacher effectiveness are consequences of market-like competition in many school reforms today. Yet when schools compete against one another, they cooperate less.”

I run a school that prefers the Finnish model. Our teachers are highly qualified, are supported to become experts in their chosen age and stage, write and develop the curricular activities in line with the best of learning science, enabled by excellent technology, physical and practical activities of sufficient breadth that all interest and aptitudes are met. Whilst academic achievement and examination success are essential outcomes from what we do, so are the personal qualities, resilient nature and employability skills for the future. Indeed what we do almost exactly matches the Times Education commission demands of our country. “The commission has highlighted the importance of taking a serious, long-term approach to education, from the early years, through school, to further and higher education and lifelong learning, to better prepare young people for the challenges they face.” 3

Claires Court offers a route through the childhood years of education as holistic as any could dare to wish for, save for its cost. Because we exist at the scale and size we are, despite the substantial financial investment parents are required to make, if nothing else we are a reminder to the government of what it says its own schools should provide, yet they can’t because the same government won’t make the resources available. 

As a society, we did not need to learn this lesson from a Finnish commentator, for at about the same time, Stewart Ranson, Emeritus Professor at Warwick University, was also saying much the same thing: “Over the past 20 years the neo-liberal agenda of choice and competition in schools has undermined public education. When the present contradictions finally implode, the nation will need a Royal Commission that leads a national conversation to rebuild education based on justice. Education should not depend on power and wealth, but on recognising that extending all the capabilities of all children is the nation’s first public good (Ranson 2010:158).”

State v Private

There is no one in business who would ever argue that state monopolies are a good thing. Equally, over the past decade and more, we can see that left to their own devices, the private sector is unable to meet all of the country’s needs without state direction or indeed intervention. Recent spotlight activities, such as checking on the country-wide habit of all privatised water companies to release raw sewage into our rivers and coastal waters. or the failure to invest in the rail infrastructure across the north of England by their franchise holders have led to calls for both these industries to be renationalised. Current discussions around the completely fragmented care system seek perhaps a nationalised solution that echoes the Beveridge plan that created the NHS in 1948. The trouble is with such proposals is that where we have examples of state direction of national services, such as the Court and Judiciary system and its associated prison service and indeed the National Health service some 74 years later, all commentators make clear that their very fragmentation has led to their current crisis, probably may actually have caused them to be broken. And of course, there is little doubt that in recent years, the country’s decision to leave the EU has also badly damaged not just our trading links with our neighbouring countries but destabilized our relationship with Eire and Scotland, the latter of course being part of our United Kingdom. 

There certainly needs to be a concerted effort across almost all of the ‘collective’ industries and services to return to a national minimum standard of provision. For Water companies, this clearly would involve returning to the Environment Agency the teeth as well as the power to regularly check (and praise or hold to account) those companies for the provision of water services, and that certainly requires more financial resources to be available. For Rail, much the same is required for the Office of the Rail Regulator, Court services by the Courts & Tribunals Service, the NHS & care services by the Department for Health and Social Care. I have not included the provision of power, electricity & gas, so far in the narrative above, but it too is facing the biggest crisis in our living memory; government rescues started for the smaller power providers who could not cope after all well before the current conflict in Ukraine, but now includes every business and house holder in the UK. Ofgem has some of this authority, though only the Chancellor of the Exchequer had the authority to bridge pro tem with his emergency bail-out. 

Benjamin Moore, a Liverpool physician had great foresight and a pioneering vision of the future in healthcare, written in “The Dawn of the Health Age”, leading to his creation of State Medical Service Association which held its first meeting in 1912 some 30 years before Aneurin Bevan opened the first NHS hospital in Manchester. When Margaret Thatcher gave council tenants ‘the right to buy’, she was largely extending Christopher Addison’s Housing Act (1919) that commenced their construction 61 years previously, providing then ‘Homes for Heroes’ returning after the Great War, and alleviating the vast housing shortage of the time. When Richard Beeching’s report on the state of our railways in 1963, it was trying to rescue the almost bankrupt British Rail established 25 years previously; it led to the creation of a national network of railways lines and the closure of 5000 miles of uneconomic branch lines, and the arrival of those improved routes permitted the commuter belt to spread much wider outside the cities, and even proposed both the construction of the Channel tunnel and HS2. Despite subsequent grumbles, Bevan, Thatcher and Beeching’s reforms were much needed at the time and helped solve a host of problems. Where their reforms have been let down, as in the other examples given too, is that the solutions proffered have simply not been followed by the sustained focussed investment needed, in short where politicians chose other routes for the development of their government, they cease to maintain the very investment the programme of reform the authors/architects identified as essential.


Here in 2022, we are suffering the almost perfect storm, where every aspect of public life and national services are calling all at once for major additional investment, at a time of course when because of the 2010 austerity measures and the 2020-22 pandemic have emptied the nation’s bank account. I fear that in the same way our nation was sidetracked into blaming immigration for our many woes and thus leading to a change in government that created Brexit, what we don’t need now is an arms race by the politicians of all hues to blame private schools for the woes of the country too, and thus bring to power politicians prepared to destroy our sector. The suggestion we are all ‘tax-dodging and preservers of privilege’ is so very much not the case with my school or nursery, or the hundreds of others like us. We take almost no public money unless local government enables same (nursery funding for 3-4 year olds and EHCP costs for SEN places), pay full council tax on our properties, corporation tax on our profits, are centres of teacher and nursery worker training, we are investing in all, and are beacons of excellence whose existence benefits the wider community. 

And I’ll conclude with the writing of David Gillard, former headteacher, turned journalist and writer, whose free book, Education in England, a history of our schools4 spans 20 years of research (1998-2018) and is its own very good read. His words on teachers, could easily cover nurses, all other public sector workers and those in private businesses covering country-wide services that keep our civil society alive and working:  “Meanwhile, across the country, tens of thousands of teachers still care deeply about the well-being and prospects of their pupils, and go to work every morning determined, despite the often unhelpful interventions of politicians, to provide them with the best and most humane education they can.” 




Posted in Possibly related posts | Leave a comment

The Inspector calls…

There is no one who works in schools anywhere in the country who doesn’t welcome the School Inspectors without some trepidation. As a constituent member of one of the Associations (ISA 600+ schools) under the Independent Schools Council, Regulatory Compliance and Education Quality Inspections are managed and staffed by the Independent Schools Inspectorate, for whom our former Executive Headteacher, Justin Spanswick occasionally works as a Reporting Inspector (RI). Our last Inspection was January 2018; it’s deemed that schools are not safe if left for more than 3 years, so it was with come welcome relief that I ‘took the call’ first thing Monday morning, and from Tuesday to Thursday this week we have had a team of 9 inspectors in our establishment to check through the 400+ regulations we are required to observe for the safe and effect running of our school(s). If you are keen, you can check them out (here), but please don’t try too hard, as many of the Regs have additional guidance alongside to expand, explain and make them recognisable.

You can start with the first one, if you like:

(2) For the purposes of paragraph (2)(1)(a), the matters are—

(a)full-time supervised education for pupils of compulsory school age (construed in accordance with section 8 of the Education Act 1996), which gives pupils experience in linguistic, mathematical, scientific, technological, human and social, physical and aesthetic and creative education;

Now what on earth might that look like, I hear you ask? Here is ours by way of example, which has some 3000 words, some graphical images and some really vital sentences tha make our curriculum very much what Claires Court stands for ⬥ Curriculum Policy

Now I promise you I am not going to go into any more detail on this or the other hundreds of reg requirements, but by way of example, this highlights the very big challenge ISI have when sending a team in, because we are inspected in addition against what we say we do, as opposed to in publicly owned schools where they are inspected against what the government asks them to pursue. With every independent school being unique, and with Claires Court Schools Ltd. being the largest proprietorially owned in England, that doubles the complication as not only are the aims. values and learning philosophies of our own making, but the owners too are unique!

So today we have been reflecting on a great job, well done. Under intense scrutiny, schools just have to move into synchrony, everyone knowing their part and creating the story live in real time. Tuesday to Wednesday Lunchtime had 3 inspectors checking all of the dry regulations that don’t include children. From staff recruitment, safeguarding, H&S, transport, fire drills and all, no stone is left unturned, documented and as appropriate squeezed a little to keep in shape. Wednesday & Thursday had teachers and children in the mix. Once notified on Monday morning, parents, children and staff had been invited to make comment by 8pm on the ISI feedback form, the responses setting up trails of queries for the inspectors to pursue. Many thanks to everyone that participated; their comments remind school and inspectors that there are some big issues to praise, challenge and query.

Yesterday evening, Mrs Kirby, Mr Richards, Mrs Rogers, my brother Hugh and I received some 75 minutes of feedback which sounded really knowledgeable, informed, appreciative, respectful and indeed celebratory. We thanked the Team as much as they thanked us – it genuinely is as much a privilege for inspectors to visit schools such as ours as it is to welcome them from their successful careers, current and past in schools like ours. As a currently resting RI, I know just what an all consuming affair inspection is; perhaps the most ‘interesting’ bit is learning which hotel ISI have found for you (Premier Inn by Maidenhead station) in the hope that there will be good beds, good lighting in the room, good wifi, breakfast and dinner to match. Once the inspection is over, inspectors go home, exhausted, complete their sectional writing and first draft of report for next Thursday…. and then sometime in January 2023 the Reports are published (Compliance & Education Quality), and we get to decide how to respond to the required recommendations as a consequence.

In the meantime, what happened is wrapped in confidentiality, with Leadership, Management and staff turning up the next day as if nothing had happened. Which of course is impossible, if for one reason and one reason only – the children. Claires Court hosts an amazing community of children, young making their first ‘baby steps’ through to the ‘almost’ grown up young people completing their sixth form studies, driving to and from school and planning their next steps into Apprenticeship, College, Gap beak, University and/or the world of WORK. I do not break confidentiality to say just how impressed our visitors were with the young people they saw over the 3 days, with some directly emailing in or making contact direct. Of course we await the report, but as it was my seventh school inspection in 32 years, I won’t hold my breath. The report has to be short, to the point, succinct and with a reading age of 14 or less. I recall the first report I wrote was full of my best ‘purple prose’ – the first draft was returned covered in ‘blood’ red corrections, one page seemingly entirely scarlet in colour. The last, for Badminton school down near Bristol is one of those Compliance only reports, to be found here – still alive and soon to be replaced I imagine.

Thursday night was the PTA Christmas Market at CCJB, and the first night of our musical showcase ‘Oh Britannia’ tonight at Senior Boys, with tomorrow lots more of school life too, which rather makes day-time snapshotting schools for inspection a pretty ‘shallow dig’ after all, as none of the really lovely stuff gets seen and heard. Happy days indeed, the Inspectors have gone away for another Year or 3 – lets hope we don’t get another pandemic in the meantime to close down our lives once more.

Posted in Possibly related posts | 2 Comments