Defending our title…into Finals day@henleyroyalregatta

After a fabulous quarter final win on Friday against Globe Rowing Club, Tom Jost had this to say:

“Hi All, As i’m sure a lot of you already will know, the boys raced fantastically well yesterday to come away with a v classy win over Globe RC. Today we have a local derby on our hands when the boys take on Maidenhead RC in the semi final, at 3:10pm.

The more support we have over in Henley the better so please try to get over to give them a cheer. Failing that then you will be able to watch the race on BT Sport or on YouTube as per usual.

The lads are in good spirits and it’s prepped to be a Henley classic! Ta.”

Well, as things turned out, it was a real classic, with the Artistry of Claires Court’s sculling against the scientific, athleticism of Maidenhead. And guess what, Art beat Science by a length and 3/4, and the Claires Court quad moves on into the Sunday finals, to be a repeat of last year, against another local rival, Windsor Boys.

The Fawley Challenge Cup Henley Royal Regatta

So, we’ll know the timings of the finals shortly, and I’ll post that here, together with Coach Tom Jost’s instructions for the final day.

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Defending our title…@henleyroyalregatta


It’s Friday 30 June, and yesterday close to 7pm, the Claires Court coxless quad beat Tideway scullers to commence their defence of the Fawley cup won last year for the first time by Claires Court.

This year’s quad consist of Oliver Costley, Jack Jesseman, Henry Osborne and Callum Perera and they looked really good after their excellent win (very easily in HRR parlance yesterday.


Today they take on Globe Rowing Club at 5:50pm. If you’re able to get over to Henley to watch the boys and give them a cheer that’d be great. Failing that, as always, you will be able to watch the race on YouTube. Link below….

Good luck to both crews of course, and we hope the Claires Court Quad will make the weekend’ rowing – #CCPride
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Talking about and taking responsibility…

GlobeI was due to write this week about our considered reaction as a school to the various terrorist atrocities over the last few weeks.  It is certainly not our wish to cause our families to fret about choices we make.  For example, this coming week’s trip to the Globe theatre on the South bank for our Year 6 girls has been cancelled;  the excursion involved some bankside walking near Borough Market, traffic is not yet free flowing in the area, and it seemed more appropriate to swap this Macbeth day in London for a Macbeth day in Maidenhead instead.  It is important of course that we still handle difficult conversations about terror and man’s inhumanity to man, and not duck such issues; sufficient to say that there is enough within the Bard’s own writing of murder, mayhem and sorcery to cause our pupils to reflect upon such barbarous matters.  Each activity we undertake goes through our Health & Safety prism, and all additional activities, particularly those that involve different and unfamiliar situations, including residential components are given the most detailed scrutiny. Our work here is independently inspected at least 3 times a year by a Health & Safety specialist, he sits on our H&S committee meetings and engages closely with events throughout the year, including our PTA activities up to and including fireworks, and produces written reports for the attention of the Principals, to which we are required to take action and make response.  If not, he will indeed ‘blow the whistle’ on us and report us to the appropriate authorities.

The appalling images from the Grenfell Tower inferno are still fresh in all of our minds, and we are learning more hour by hour of the extraordinary bravery of the emergency services during the conflagration.  It’s one thing to be trained as a first responder, quite another to learn how to use police shields to keep fire grenwell-residents-816861and ambulance crews protected from the showering, flaming debris from the building. Speculation on fault and blame is rife; given the area has had been covered by such mixed political masters over the past 15 or so years, it’s unwise to point a finger.  Suffice it to say, other public servants are going to be in the spotlight in months, perhaps years, for actions that are polar opposites to those decisive and life-saving behaviours we have seen this last week.

If I see a common theme between all these ghastly incidents, and my more normal daily correspondence with normal life here in Maidenhead, it is that we have, bit by bit, seen the winnowing away of specialist support services previously reliably provided by locally accountable public servants and their services. We welcomed PC Graham Slater

20170613_114508 (1)

PC Graham Slater at our front door at Senior Boys

into the Senior Boys school earlier this week, for many years the specialist schools Liaison officer for RBWM, and a real expert in supporting more difficult matters cor which schools quite regularly need support.  Whenever we have had any boy-on-boy physical violence in recent years, PC SLater has been informed, and as appropriate visited the school, met with those involved, including parents as appropriate. And it’s not just the boys, but girls and on occasion adults themselves needing some support and guidance across the Claires Court community, and PC Slater has been outstanding.  Police Liaison services have been restructured, the body count too low now to justify dedicated support, and so the service now falls to the local beat officer where the schools are to be found. The picture shows headmaster John Rayer, and school Receptionist Sharon Adams (formerly a WPC herself) together presenting PC Slater with a token of our esteem. We will miss his wise words and counsel, and so will all of our many schools; is such continued replacement of specialists by generalists really the way forward in our normal walks of life?

Children’s services are no longer under the direct control of our borough; outsourced to a triumvirate including Kingston and Richmond. Adult services have already gone this way, as have legal services, to be found in Wokingham borough.  The Town Hall’s extensive additional premises have slowly been emptied, all part of a carefully considered plan to keep costs low by reducing headcount and outsourcing where possible.  I do wonder now when even our military forces are utterly reliant on part-time volunteers how this will all end?  Will our 2 new aircraft carriers ever actually find the personnel to sail them when the time comes?  In part this last election carried this dilemma to the public: if you want 1b563efc5db3c040bbe056fbfb5b6924better public services, “in some way or other they’ll need to be paid for, whether that be by 1p a £1 on income tax, or a new ‘dementia’ tax to be applied to those with property services”.


In a lot of my writing in education, be that about teaching, learning, management or even parenting, I talk about ‘good noticing’. It’s really important now we go about our duties, not just as professionals in service but as citizens of our country with our ‘eyes wide open’ , and remembers whilst we do, to ask difficult questions. The best questions to ask are those that carry with them ‘No Blame’ , as shown in the picture here.



As a language, we are indebted to Rudyard Kipling for much good literature and poetry. Kipling’s Jungle book is perhaps the most influential piece of his work that all children know.  I particularly like though his short stanza – 6 honest serving- men:

“I Keep six honest serving-men:
(They taught me all I knew)
Their names are What and Where and When
And How and Why and Who”

As we continue to ask questions and wonder ‘Why and How?’, let’s keep all those that serve us in focus, and keep good watch on what they say and do.  We may not be in positions of elected responsibility, but those who are need to bear their responsibilities honestly and honourably.  Oh, and on those matters of finding excuse,  it was Kipling who also introduced us to a central message about taking responsibility

“We have forty million reasons for failure, but not a single excuse.”



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Returning our attention to our own…

One of the most important features visible in successful educational institutions is ‘good noticing’.  I was taught this in two ways, one by virtue of bitter experience when I had let something slip (often an issue in a busy life) and had to spend much time afterwards 710kFGB-yAL‘mopping up’.  It’s so much better to focus on noticing things well the first time around, this playing to the old proverb ‘a stitch in time saves nine’.  Obviously, good noticing is needed almost everywhere, but its connotations can often be negative, even if the purpose is supposed to be ‘good’. Big brother CCTV cameras have come into their own in every walk of life; they have permitted us to track those involved in the recent terrorist outrages, find out where they have been prior to the events, and even perhaps arrest others associates supporters. Being spied upon often has negative connotations, and has certainly brought into a range of public workplaces such as the NHS a fear of being found out for making a mistake and thus being labelled unprofessional or worse. Here’s the Nursing times writing about that 3 years ago –

cw-pic3The second way I learned this was through the excellent research work of Chris Watkins of the Institute of Education London, now sadly retired. Chris’ teaching definition is as follows: Noticing. This is the first step: to stimulate and credit learners with the fact that they direct their attention and that this is a key building block. It can develop further into a focus on one’s own activity: that key element of noticing what you are doing while you are doing it.

Here’s Chris writing* a bit more about ‘noticing’ in 2014:

We might underestimate young people’s noticing: a teacher in a West London school put a sign up at the front of her classroom for 5/6 year olds, saying “What have you noticed
today?”. She reported back to the project group “I soon took that down!”. “Why?”
“Because they noticed so much and it took ages for them to tell me it all”. 

Helping children learn how to notice things is a real art, and building in them the capacity to notice something about their own actions and ways of thinking is an incredibly important way of rapidly improving their own learning. We call such activities, thinking-about-thinking, or to use a grown -up word, ‘metacognition’. It is not that metacognition assists us to learn from our mistakes, actually far from it. What good noticing in this context permits us to do is to learn more quickly what it is that we do that leads to successful learning.  Obviously teachers notice things in they their pupils’ work all the time, but given the number of things they will notice in a whole host of children, the process of telling each child what they have noticed is both laborious and time consuming, and far less productive then enabling the child to think for themselves and rewarding them for so doing when true metacognitive activity takes place.

The trouble is for all of us is that our attention is so easily grabbed by that which is arresting, alarming or plain horrific, and we have had plenty of that in recent weeks. I’m writing this on the day after the General Election, and I can’t help but noticing that whilst Theresa May has gone to see the Queen to ask her permission to form a new government, she seems not to have won the electoral mandate she set out to achieve 7 weeks ago. It’s not that Jeremy Corbyn has won, because actually the polls show the Conservatives have won the majority vote and the most seats of all the parties who stood. What Corbyn has  brought to everyone’s attention is a whole raft of issues with regards to our current provision in public service where chronic mismatched funding and bad policy decisions are pointing to the near collapse of vital services.  T

he fact that the Labour manifesto captured every single populist cri de coeur going inevitably was going to attract the young and idealistic to their campaign.  Knowing they were never likely to get elected meant they could be as full of largesse as any, and in costing the budget for them to make the numbers look good is not the same as actually making the budget work.  Good luck to Mr Corbyn and his fellow travellers, because their good noticing of the range of deficit issues was not matched by the government of the day, who in my view so crassly underestimated the intelligence of the electorate.

Whatever the merits of the parties at the election, we can’t help but have noticed the incredible publiMembers of the emergency services attendc support that has risen to wash over the police, emergency and health care workers that have had to deal with such horrific events during this period. Bravery and duty are on show every day in our public services, yet all too often unseen and because of that unreported. The ‘thin blue line’ must not be permitted to get any thinner, and if there is one policy from the Liberal party I am prepared to support, it’s the increase in income tax to fund world class public services.

Anyway, it’s back to school and good noticing within for me. As a school leader, I can’t do much about that outside my remit, but if there’s a call to action all need to notice and heed it is to return to work and strive to improve.  Let’s stand up and ‘notice’ that well – to be the best we can be. keep-calm-and-be-the-best-we-can-be



*Chris Watkins (2015) Metalearning in Classrooms

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Talking about terrorist attacks with young people – a dilemma for us all.

At the close of the first  half of term, my blog was a straightforward statement from the Deputy Chief Constable of the Thames Valley police, stating the heightened position of the National Terrorism Threat, being raised to critical following the Manchester arena bombing at the close of the Ariana Grande concert. 10 days onwards, and whilst the threat level had been reduced, our country has experienced a second horrific incident at and near London Bridge on Saturday evening.

Like so many of us, I have tried to stay in touch with as much of the unfolding news around the tragedies as they have occurred, and follow with interest the reactions of the communities concerned, the wider press and subsequent publicity.  With the very wide age and range of children in our school, we are really aware that their experiences are going to be very different.  With secondary and Sixth Form pupils, we have engaged very directly with the events and aftermaths, and will continue to do because their experiences with family and on-line are feeding many lines on information and a diversity of approach.  This is all happening at the time of a general election, and the senior school community is very much embracing the opportunity to study the news and discuss the issues.

The younger the child, the greater care we are taking, and we are sensitive that parents will need good information on how we are tackling these issues (if and when we do), so they can stay in step and work with us to allay fears and calm nerves.  The BBC have provided good, immediate advice for schools and families, here, which we have in use already, and as and when those that support our work provide further, more focussed advice, we’ll share that too.

School leadership across the Claires Court sites is meeting on Thursday this week to discuss further the ramifications of the events so far, discuss further our routines for safety and critical incidents, and check our calendar activity to see if there are any forthcoming events we should cancel in the light of their proximity to areas of risk.  I will be writing further to all parents on Friday this next week (16 June) to confirm outcomes from our deliberations and highlight any additional preventative measures we are putting in place to assist our school and community to feel safer.

Such has been the unexpected nature of the outrages we have seen this year so far, I don’t feel it is our role to talk up the dangers alone. As Catherine Vale writes in the Guardian last Friday:

“Show them the good:  Terror attacks are frightening, and the immediate aftermath can be confusing and overwhelming for young people. But where there is violence there is also good: emergency responders on the scene; civilians offering their homes to strangers; blood donors queuing up round the block; and taxi drivers offering free rides. Reminding young people of this can help alleviate students’ fear and put the events in perspective.”

And despite the ghastliness of the news, we can be inspired by those around us who have been able to make response already.  Scooter Braun, Ariana Grande’s manager spoke these words last night at Old Trafford during the benefit concert for the victims of the first tragedy, referencing the terrible London Bridge attacks which took place on 3 June :

‘As we saw yesterday, evil will test us, it will show it’s face again, but because of you we can say we will be ready, we will be fearless, we will be great and we will honour our children. Because we owe it to those children whose futures were ripped away from them to be brave.

‘They demand our bravery. Hatred will never win, fear will never divide us, because on this day we all stood with Manchester.’


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National Terrorism Threat Level Raised to Critical

The message below was received from the Thames Valley Police, with forward messaging to parents requested.  I publish that message in full:
“As you will no doubt be aware, on Tuesday night the Prime Minister confirmed that the national terrorist threat has been raised to critical. This change means that an attack could be imminent. At this time there is no intelligence to suggest a specific threat to the Thames Valley area. Our priority is to protect the communities of the Thames Valley and visitors to our area. We have put in place additional armed and unarmed officers at key locations. This is very much focused on crowded places, including transport hubs and shopping centres. Don’t be alarmed if you see more armed police officers both on foot and in vehicles.  For operational reasons we are not confirming details of locations, tactics and numbers of police officers on duty, to ensure the effectiveness of our deployments. We will continue to work with our partners and event organisers to assess the planned events where we may need to enhance our presence.”

83066869_dcc-john-campbell-2Deputy Chief Constable John Campbell said:

“I would like to reassure you that the move to critical is something that we prepare for. We will continually review our deployments and take all possible steps to keep people safe within Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Berkshire.
At this time we need everyone to remain alert but not alarmed.  We need your help to help us protect our communities and disrupt those who seek to harm us. I would urge you to contact the police straight away if you believe that someone is acting suspiciously.
Our officers and staff will continue to provide a visible presence in our communities and we have the specialist resources in place to respond in an emergency.”

Our Police liaison officer, PC Graham Slater writes “I have also included below, a couple of useful links covering advice on how to tackle any fears or anxiety our young people may be experiencing following events this week. You may wish to pass these on to parents.”
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Questions of the Prime Minister…

Mark Hookham, correspondent from The Sunday TiSFquestionsmes, came to speak to some of our Sixth Form students last week, asking them “What do young people want from, or want to know about, Theresa May.   He posed the sThe_Sunday_Times_logo_310ame questions to the PM on Satruday, and the Sunday Times covered some of those in their Sunday paper edition.

I have cut and pasted the series below:

May we ask . . . Pupils pose PMQs

Who is your favourite artist and why?
Alasdair Butler, 19

Stanley Spencer, who was one of the great British 20th-century artists. He was born and brought up and painted a lot in my constituency. If you’ve seen his Glasgow shipyard Second World War paintings, they’re absolutely incredible. We now have a Stanley Spencer that has been lent to No 10. I had a print on my wall as home secretary, too.

Have you ever suffered or known others who have suffered from mental health problems?
Alastair Roberts-Rhodes, 19, and Flora Gault, 18

I have known people who have suffered from mental health issues. There was a young woman I met recently who explained that, when she was at school, nobody had really known how to deal with her mental health problems. She had been grateful that one teacher had been able to help her. Because the teacher was a head of sixth form and had a small office, she was able to provide the girl with a space to which she could go when she was worried or anxious. But that was all she was able to do.

It is examples like that that show why we need to ensure there is a member of staff trained in every school who knows what to do.

I have known friends and family affected. I’ve not been in a position where there was a direct expectation for me to assist, but I have seen that there are often within families people who don’t quite know how to respond to those sorts of problems.

What is the worst book you’ve read?
Camilla Slais, 17

I’m tempted to say the draft Labour manifesto for the 2017 general election.

Has your thinking ever changed because of a novel?
Alasdair Butler, 19

A book that brought something home to me was The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas [published in 2006 by the Irish writer John Boyne].

It is a very, very cleverly written book and a very well-written book, and what it brings home is the absolute horror of the Holocaust.

Has your faith ever got in the way of any policy you have had to agree to?
Sally Price, 17

No, I don’t think it has got in the way. But I got a strong feeling from being brought up in a vicarage of the importance of public service.

What is on your bucket list?
Flora Gault, 18

I genuinely don’t have a bucket list. My approach is to just get on and do what you’re faced with every day.

Talking to the students on Monday, it was quite clear just how thrilled they were by seeing their questions answered.  “When you read the Prime Minister in print asking your questions, which are much closer to the topics that fill our conversation every day, you feel you have got to know her just a little bit better”.

Therein lies the difficult rub for our politicians, that being the failure of elections to gather the interest and engagement of the young. It was evidently the case with Brexit, as the Sky Data exit poll showed last year:Skydatapoll

As no data was actually taken on the age of those who actually voted, Sky data don’t suggest their statistics are fool-proof, but they’ll be pretty close. Guardian young journalist Hannah Jane Parkinson wrote an excellent article on the failure of youth to cast their vote 28 June 2016.  Entitled “Young People are so bad at voting“, she strikes close to the heart of the matter:

“But what is most disheartening is when people do not vote because they feel politicians do nothing for them. Often, the people who do not vote are right: politicians have done nothing for them. But, quite frankly, that is because under the current system, politicians won’t do anything for the people who do not vote. Politicians implement policies for the people who return them to power. Older people vote.”

And why: see triple-lock pensions, free bus passes and TV licences, protection from cuts.

We can get a handle on where this ‘youth inertia’ comes from this Douglas Adams ‘quote’

“1.Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.

2. Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.

3. Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things.”

What is so evident is that new and exciting sets out as young adults become truly independent, with a belief that they can shape the world. It’s only after a few years getting a bloody nose on the rocks of life that adults begin to realise they need to organise and get political.  And the danger of course is that with the vast majority of those of the age of 35 becoming increasingly conservative, changing the status-quo becomes really difficult.

Last Thursday afternoon at the ISA Heads conference in York, Times journalist spoke with great humour and honesty about just how much ‘Nothing matters’ when it comes to elections.   Philip Collins is a leader writer for The Times, also chairman of trustees at the independent think tank Demos. Before joining The Times he was the chief speech writer for the prime minister, Tony Blair, the director of the Social Market Foundation think tank, and an equity strategist at two investment banks.  In short, Collins knows ‘stuff’, and his take of things is very adjacent to Adams’. ‘Parties that get elected in the UK hold the centre ground, and you can see that over the past 70 years since WW2′. Despite all the hot air and headlines of copy writers and media gurus, there seems nothing politicians can say to sway the voter in the run-up to elections.  Collins predicted Labour will win circa 180 seats, and he has an interesting about the chances of Jeremy Corbyn surviving.  More than 195 and everyone will think he’s been a success, and less than 170 and the Corbynistas in Parliament will be in the majority,

Since Collins’ talk last Thursday, the major parties have released their manifestos, and it is pretty obvious which politician (and party) has tried to strike the middle, stable, reliable and sensible ground, staying out of the limelight and clear of controversy. “Lurches to the left and to the right must be avoided at all costs” suggests Collins, but writing in the Times on Sunday, he is  mourns the lack of real guts in the Labour manifesto.

The really damning critique is not that the Labour Party is red in tooth and claw. It is that it is toothless and clueless. Mr Corbyn’s political ideas were stale when he first had them 40 years ago. This is a document that, at 45 pages, is long because they didn’t have the wit to write a short one. Reheated, rehashed, resigned, a sermon to the converted. The foreign policy section is too vague to be the precise terms of surrender that the leader desired but “extremely cautious” about nuclear deterrence means he doesn’t understand it. Military action when other options have “been exhausted” means “never”.

Just in case my readers feel I am a tad biased in my coverage, here’s the same Collins writing today about the Conservative Manifesto:

Trying to decipher what this general election is about, there is a lot of noise and not much of a signal. Theresa May’s approach to campaigning — avoiding the public and the pesky journalists with their questions — reflects really badly on her fragility. The Tory manifesto is said to be light on anything so conventional as actual policies. Better to promise nothing and be sure to deliver it. You have to search for a clue to what is going on and, on your behalf, I think I have found it. There is nothing going on.”

And there you have it dear reader, a choice of 3 ways forward:

1. The empty rhetoric that is a sure fire ‘winner’, or

2. Shroud waving by the clueless, or

3. Some genuine concern for  good news and concern for others from the youth of  today.

Sadly, I don’t think the third way is going to surface our young voters generally, but it would be nice to think Alasdair, Camilla, Flora and Sally would make their vote count, perhaps seeing something for them in policies that might arrest the ever rising cost of University Education. As the Independent made clear in March, we now have the highest tuition fees in the world, and they are set to rise further next year. Spotting the policies that benefit the young is what’s needed if they are to be attracted en masse into the polling booths. I quote Collins again: “Unless we find a way of changing the way young people choose to vote, nothing else matters.  The grown-ups know how they are going to vote already, and the older they are, the more certain they are.”





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