Headteachers: academic leaders or business leaders?

Posted: 9th May, 2016. Topics:

This week in the TES, one of the top stories centres around ‘teaching’ heads being replaced by ‘business’ heads.

In the independent sector this is becoming more of the norm, as schools are realising that they are not just educators anymore but sellers of a product. Back in the day the relationship was one of parent and school, now it is buyer and seller.

Competition to recruit pupils is fierce in the tough market which sees fees continue to rise which is also commented on by a former Head of Eton saying parents are being priced out of the market.

A colleague was at an alumni reunion event over the weekend at her old school and the friends she met up with 20 years ago were all talking about how it is now impossible for them to send their children to said school.

Schools are now businesses as well as educators. Bursars ensure that all costs are covered with both lets, alumni fundraising and pupils supporting this. Gone are the days of the bursars role centering on sending out the bills and giving stern looks to parents who have not paid the bill to ensure a speedy bill paying action by said parent. And Marketing teams are now the norm to ensure numbers are sufficient for a sustainable operation without diluting the ethos of the school – a very tricky juggling act. Schools are having to ensure excellent customer service to recruit and retain – the hallmark of the commercial sector.

So I think Independent Schools are right to consider looking at headteachers with business experience. This is always balanced by an academic deputy too. From my experience, these ‘business’ people are definitely not scared of children or obsessed by spreadsheets. They are in fact the opposite.

They relish the challenge to keep each school and the ethos of that school alive too so that the children – with whom for many is what it is all about –  in the school can continue to benefit from the continuing education that the independent sector provides in the UK, and that parents – who have spent hours deciding and deliberating on the perfect school for their child – have chosen for the children.

And as the customer – in fact both pupil and parent as the customer – the customer is what the commercial sector focuses on, and that is what Independent Schools are realising they have to focus on to ensure a sustainable operation.

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The SATS Uproar – what is it all about?

Posted: 2nd May, 2016. Topics:

SATS – and no … in this case SATS does not stand for Standard Army Training System or Small Applications Technology Satelite; it stands for Standard Assessment Tests for Schools that at the moment many parents are querying for their six and seven year olds. Click here to read all about it!; and five year olds: Click here to read this story.

Here’s what the Huffington Post says about it all - click here to read their blog.

It was all highlighted to me last week when my LinkedIn account popped up with the image above, and a parent had only that day emailed me about this story and the LetOurKidsBeKids campaign saying, “This campaign is gathering momentum.  The fact that Abbotsholme gives parents the chance to opt out of all the negative things this campaign deplores is great and is the reason our boys came to Abbotsholme in the first place.”

According to reports, the new SATs exams mean children as young as five are now being tested on material such as punctuation, times tables and fractions – two years earlier than before.

The campaign, started by a small group of parents, is planning a national boycott on May 3rd 2016 – urging parents to keep their children off school for a day of fun-learning activities as a show of support.

So what are SATS in a nutshell? Since their inception in 1991 for seven, 11, 14 and 16 year olds, they have caused controversy from all quarters: unions, teachers, and now parents. Fewer than half of children reach the targeted grade in 1995, four years after it began, although in 1999 results started to improve. In the early 00′s teachers admit correcting papers in a number of schools, and claims are made about the stress it puts pupils under. In 2002, schools fail to meet the expected level four pass rate of 80% and although there was an improvement in 2004 the controversy continues.

LetOurKidsbeKids campaign run by Year 2 parents against SATS label them as ‘…endless testing by an OFSTED driven, dull, dry curriculum aimed solely at passing National Curriculum Tests.’ They want education to go back to ‘… the creativity and fun…’ They go on to say ‘…outdoor learning has decreased, childhood anxiety has increased, games have been replaced with grammar, playing with punctuation.’

In response to this, we at Abbotsholme believe that education should be about balance. Schools should not be exam factories churning out rows and rows of pupils who know how to pass exams for exams sake. Where is the life lesson in that? How many people can put their paw up with me and say that getting on in life is not just about passing exams and academic excellence? It’s about team playing, communication, working with people as well as academics. Its about the balance – just as with everything in life.

School should be about academic learning AND sports, outdoor learning, music, arts, drama, camping, kayaking, den-making, helping sheep give birth to lambs, climbing, hiking, team games, riding, gaming, coding, financial management, the seven habits of highly effective people etc. It should be about real life.

I have always thought – and it has been pointed out to me on many an occasion and is written in our white information book –  that our unique education for life begins with allowing children to be children first.

Hirch – the Dog that Blogs!

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Pastoral Care – what does it mean?

Posted: 25th April, 2016. Topics:

Well, we know that Independent School’s can really be a tricky minefield to negotiate: admissions processes, open days, forms, variety of choice, taster days, uniform purchasing etc, but none so than the incessant jargon that goes with Independent Schools.

Sometimes I think that schools forget that there are two very different markets looking at Independent Schooling for their child/ren: families have had had generations in independent schools (and are a dying breed), and first time buyers – the new target market. As a recent Independent School reporting summarised, the sector has gone from parents who were ‘Tim Nice but Dim’, to ‘Loads a Money!’

Unfortunately, schools themselves have not embraced these market changes as tight lipped, pearl-wearing admissions ladies (generally the Heads PA), continue as they always have in terms of their language and cold welcome (“….because in my day, cold showers and no heating was what it was all about…”)

So I am going to untangle the jargon starting with the number one jargon topping phase – Pastoral Care (Huuuuhhhhh?). What does it mean?

Google says, ‘Pastoral care is an ancient model of emotional and spiritual support that can be found in all cultures and traditions.’

ISBI says, “ To look after pupils personal needs, rather than their education. Making sure they are happy, comfortable, well-fed and have clean laundry, etc.”

Mumsnet users have also tried to debunk this jargon with the following: ‘emotional support and guidance’, ‘looking after the welfare of the child rather than just their academic side,’ and ‘When talking about a school it means things like, do they notice a pupil who is unhappy and would they know what to do about it, do they clamp down on bullying and help pupils to resolve their differences, do they have procedures in place to support a pupil who is struggling due to problems at home/illness/bereavement/etc.’

I think Mumsnet users have it right. Independent Schools do more than provide counsellors, they have a system of tutors, Heads of Year and boarding teams that care for the whole person – academic and emotional. Schools recognize that pupils could be having difficulties with academic work because of issues at home, or bullying from other pupils or a myriad of reasons. Independent Schools are about the whole person in many cases, so for a child to be successful and achieve, you have to consider all the various contacts that a child has both in school and at home. As Daniel Goleman put it in his bestseller Emotional Intelligence, “If your emotional abilities aren’t in hand… then no matter how smart you are, you are not going to get very far.”

Other jargon topping phrases:

Assignments – Homework

Absence – from school, morning or afternoon

Boarding (Full/weekly/flexi) – Boarders are pupils who stay at the school overnight. This could be one, two, or three nights a week which is considered as flexi boarding; weekly boarding is pupils who stay at the school overnight from Sunday or Monday through to Friday, and then full boarding is staying overnight at the school for the full week.

Bursary - Some independent schools provide bursaries, which are grants from the school to help pay school fees and may be means tested. They differ from scholarships, which are usually dependent on the pupil’s ability (eg: academic, music, sport, or art primarily).

CCF – Combined Cadet Force. The tradition of cadet units in schools goes back 150 years to 1860 and ever since it was formed in 1948, the Combined Cadet Force (CCF) has been recognised as a first class, extra curricula activity for the development of young people, and particularly to provide cadets with an exciting opportunity for teenaged cadets to exercise responsibility and leadership in a disciplined environment.

Co-ed – co-educational education whereby both boys and girls are educated at the school

Common Entrance - Common entrance examinations are sometimes required to be taken by pupils for admission to an independent school and is geenrally held at age 13+.

Common Room – This is generally referred as another collective noun for the academic staff in an independent school; or pupils may have a common room whetre they can meet in year groups during break times.

DofE – Duke of Edinburgh Award

Dormitories – These are boarders’/pupils’ bedrooms, usually shared by several pupils. This is becoming less and less the norm now, and certainly older pupils may have single study bedrooms.

Exeat - For many Independent Schools, exeat weekends are set weekends during the term (usually two – one per half term) where all boarding pupils go home or in the case of International pupils to a guardian. Generally these are the only weekends boarders can go home to see  their parents, and it also gives boarding staff some time off during the term time from their continual boarding duties.

ISC – Independent Schools Council, represents over 1200 Independent Schools in the UK, with the aim to promote the sector.

ISI – The Independent Schools Inspectorate is the body responsible for the inspection of schools in membership of the Associations that make up the Independent Schools Council.

Lent Term/Half – Easter Term or Spring Term / Easter Half Term or Spring Half Term

Michaelmas Term/Half - Christmas Term or Autumn Term / Christmas Half Term or Autumn Half Term

Mufti – Schools have mufti days which consists of pupils coming to school in their own clothes, as opposed to uniform. Mufti is also used for boarders own clothes which they wear in many cased in the evenings and weekends at school rather than the uniform.

OEd – Outdoor Education

Pre-Prep - Independent schools preparing children up to the age of seven for entry into fee-paying, preparatory independent schools, which may also be known as public or private schools. Abbotsholme is different because we have a Prep School for pupils aged between 4-11, we have decided to call our School for pupils aged 3-4 the Pre-Prep (the school before Prep.)

Prep – another word for homework; another word for Junior School usually for pupils aged between seven and 11. It is a shortened form of the word Preparatory.

Public School - Schools which are self-governing and funded independently of the state

Private School - Schools which are self-governing and funded independently of the state

The San – Health centre; shortened from the word Sanatorium

Tuck - Snacks and sweets, either brought from home or bought from the school tuck shop


So there you go – debunking the jargon within our sector. If you have any more, please add your jargon and
comment to this post.

Hirch – the Dog that Blogs



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The love-hate relationship the UK population has with Independent Schools…

Posted: 18th April, 2016. Topics:

… is something I have never understood. You cannot open a magazine, newspaper or read an online article without finding some form of negative stereotype or comment.

Parents have even been overheard to to use ‘I will send you away to a boarding school if you do not behave’ as a threat, or comment ‘That’s the place where all the posh types go, you will have to behave if you go there.’

I suppose Harry Potter did the Independent Sector market a great deal of good. You will often hear parents and pupils say as they walk into the Dining Room, “Wow it’s like Harry Potter,” and really expect to see an owl fly down with a letter. (One day on an open day I am going to try and make that happen!)

But people may vilify independent schools, but when you look at it in an economic way, they only do good.

According to an Oxford Economics report done a few years ago for the ISC, Independent Schools save the taxpayer £3 billion pounds which equates to £133 per household. They pay £3.6 billion pounds in revenue, support 227,000 jobs (equivalent to 1 in every 122 people in employment) and support a £9.5 billion gross value added contribution to Britain’s GDP which is slightly larger than the size of the economy of the city of Liverpool.

Not only that the value of means tested bursaries for almost 40,000 children exceeds £300 million annually.

The recent documentary drawing on a well known independent school just outside the Cotswolds, and a maintained school in Derby showed the added value that Independent Schools provide which is confidence (something I believe you cannot put a price on.)

Confidence. What does that mean to people? Confidence is generally described as a state of being certain either that a hypothesis or prediction is correct or that a chosen course of action is the best or most effective. Self-confidence is having confidence in oneself so Google says.

Why are Independent Schools good at this? Because of the variety of activities that Independent Schools offer that allow pupils to have a go out, and find their niche. We are all nervous about trying new things, but when you try new things all the time (as pupils do in Independent Schools), then trying new things becomes less daunting and confidence is built.

Confidence allows pupils the ability to go out in the world and try new things, speak with new people, embrace new situations (and therefore jobs) and this is what Independent Schools do very well at supporting.  Going back to the documentary, the pupils from the Derby maintained school said they were unable to be themselves because people would laugh and make fun of you, and were surprised when spending time in the independent school that people came up and talked to them, did not make fun of them and they could grow in confidence. We saw this when one of the boys loved it so much he wanted to stay and the school offered him a bursary to attend.

If anyone thinks that in this day and age – and something I feel very passionate about – that a person obtains a job solely on the basis of the ability to do a job, then they are wrong. The ability to communicate, be part of a team, to be creative and think outside the box, to try new ideas, and to engage and get on with a variety of people is what is important to grow and sustain a business. Independent Schools facilitate these kinds of employees and future leaders better than anywhere else, and that is why we should be grateful to them.

Next week I am going to write about Pastoral Care in Independent Schools , something else many do well at.

Hirch – the Dog that Blogs.


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Sellers and Buyers: a new era in Independent Schools

Posted: 11th April, 2016. Topics:

Last week, I read a fascinating article about pushy parents and late night calls to independent schools after a glass or two of wine. Click here to read the article.

The comments by the public following this article were very divisive.

In opposition to the rise of this new phenomenon, one person commented, “It’s an extension of middle class parents treating their children like Gods, jumping to every whim. Let the teachers get on with their jobs (they are trained!) and stop helicopter parenting.”

Another said, “There have been a couple of times when things my daughter has told me about her school day have annoyed me, but I always wait until after a night’s sleep to email the school. A few hours to calm down completely changes the tone of what I’m writing. Teaching is a tough job and dealing with over the top ranting parents shouldn’t be part of it.”

And another, “Wait till your child gets pushy by following you and then whine about and blame it on the education system and schools. Parents who possess these behavioural traits are the problem. Learning starts at home!!!”

In support of pushy (or as i call it getting value for money), one person commented, “What a ridiculous assumption. I went to prep school, followed by boarding school, followed by university. My parents didn’t make phone calls after 8 PM when I was a child. However, if one is paying £30k per year, I believe one has the right to make phone calls at whatever time one wishes.”

Another said, “I teach in a private school, but I choose to check my emails in the evening and therefore answer parents emails after hours – but that’s my choice. The response from parents is extremely positive and they like the fact I respond – it’s customer service and I would not change my attitude. The parents of private school children are in effect customers, wanting the best product money can buy (ie their children’s education) and if they are not happy with the service they will go elsewhere, and I want to keep my job!!! If answering an email at 9.00pm brings in £15k annual fees, I have no problem. The problem is parents who rant when they only hear one side of the story”

And finally, “Oh, cry me a river! I work in an independent school and trust me, staff are more than compensated with longer holidays and much better pay than state schools; not for them students verbally and physically abusing them or the school premises. Private education is like any service we pay for like your mobile phones or Internet, if you don’t get the service you expect you change provider – teachers in private education can be so out of touch with reality; food banks and poverty are things that happen to other people; for what they’re paid, a lot more would be expected if they worked in the real world.”

It made me think about schools back in the day when schools were educators and parents were parents. With fees having risen faster than salaries and many schools having fees now breaking the £30,000 ceiling per annum, move over educator / parent relationship, and bring on the seller / buyer relationship.

Schools have to provide top notch customer service to – as one person wrote above – “…bring in £15k in annual fees…”. Boarding schools certainly have longer hours than a 9-5 culture and this could be what the article was referring too as boarding house telephone numbers and duty phones are available for parents to call at any hour of the day, and boarding fees as we know are even higher than day fees.

Abbotsholme School has a service level agreement by which all emails, telephone calls and contact with the school has to be answered within 24 hours. Many members of staff answer emails well into the evenings from worried  parents to allay their concerns straight away. By default with the advent of social media, mobile telephones and the ability to have emails on the go, we have supported this new culture of 24/7 work with our incessant need for the latest and most efficient gadget.

However, I know that I expect excellent customer service when I spend a higher than normal amount on a service (especially on premium dog biscuits), so the same should be expected of parents.

Please let us know what you think of this topic and article.

Hirch, the Dog that Blogs.




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Easter holidays: Spring, chocolate and five issues regarding revision!

Posted: 4th April, 2016. Topics:

The Easter holidays is renowned for chocolate madness as you can with a drawing of me over the weekend surrounded by my Easter eggs, and at the moment a wonderful feeling that Spring is definitely here and Summer is just around the corner, but it is also a time for many teenagers when revision is – or should be  - high on the agenda.

This is the last big holiday before GCSEs and A Levels kick in from May onwards.

Are you one of a number of parents who do not seem to see your child / children revising? Is this worrying you? I and my colleagues have put together some thoughts on why this could be to help you through the next few weeks:

There could be a number of reasons why revision is not happening in your household:

1 – The fact that there is a number of weeks left stretching out in front of your child both at Easter and during the early part of the next term which could be putting your child into denial about the urgency of revision.

2 – Your child could be absolutely panic stricken because of the enormity of the task in hand which has put them off ever starting.

3 – They do not have a good revision strategy to start the process so do not know where to begin, although if they are a pupil in Year 11 at Abbotsholme, this would have been addressed with attending the ‘Strategies for Success’ revision day held at the end of the term.

4 – Are their friends encouraging them to go out a lot and enjoy this good weather? Now of course – everything in moderation, pupils need fresh air and they need to pass their GCSEs!

5. And finally…..they either know it all, or  they cannot be bothered!

It is difficult being a parent. You want your child to achieve and success and you know the importance of hard work – otherwise you would not be able to send your child to a school like Abbotsholme. However, at the same time, I think we forget we were young once too!

Anyway, I wrote a blog a while back on some revision tips for the Christmas holidays, and I thought it would be prudent to include it again here for the Easter holidays: Revision Tips!

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Easter Chocolate Madness

Posted: 28th March, 2016. Topics:

Hirch is having a holiday from the blog this week, giving him time to consume more chocolate eggs!

He will be back next week with his educational pearls of wisdom!


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The power of Twitter…..

Posted: 21st March, 2016. Topics:

Over the last week one of our teachers has woken up to a Twitter storm in regard to his Leicester City season ticket which he gave up last year and which you can hear all about here:


James Diamond decided not to renew his season ticket ironically just before Leicester City Football Club had an historic season, and twitter going mad over this story!

The power of twitter is amazing as the following story can show about teaching and twitter.

Abbotsholme has a number of twitter accounts for parents and pupils to keep up to date – check out all of them here:

Abbotsholme @AbbotsholmeSch

Academic @Academicholme

Art, Music and Drama @Artsholme

Boarding @Boardingholme

Business Studies @Businessholme

Digital Learning @Digitalholme

Life @LRCholme

Outdoor Education @OEdholme

Farm and Equestrian @Animalholme

Round Square @RoundSqholme

Sixth Form @Sixthformholme

Sport @Sportholme

So hope you can start following one or many of these accounts!




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Lambing has began at Abbotsholme!

Posted: 7th March, 2016. Topics:

It is that time of year again at Abbotsholme. Lambing season is upon us. To date we have had 16 lambs born with another 44 or so to go. Check out our lamb counter here to see how many we currently have!

You may remember that a few weeks ago Abbotsholme was on Countryfile preparing for lambing season, the busiest time of the year for the farm. Pupils gave injections and hurdles were set up to house sheep and new born lambs.

Lambing is synonymous with Spring time. Rather than writing about lambs, I thought I would add some of our favourite lamb pictures over the years. Aaaaahhhh!

Why not come and visit them – and see where Countryfile filmed – on our Open Day this Saturday 12th March between 9.30am – 4.30pm!

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Goats, Nigeria and a goats cheese challenge!

Posted: 29th February, 2016. Topics:

As Countryfile last Sunday showed our Prep School pupils feeding goats, and currently Abbotsholme is being represented in Nigeria which has the 5th largest population of goats in the world, this weeks blog is about goats, Nigeria and goats cheese.

The blog continues the tradition this month of focusing on animals – but rather than focus on lambs (at the time of going to press, I was not aware of any new-born lambs at Abbotsholme but there is always next weeks blog!) I thought that we do not give much media space to our two goats.

Did you know that Abbotsholme has goats? Did you know that they are called Bill and Ben and that they are pygmy goats? Nigeria is famous for its dwarf goats!

Throughout the year Abbotsholme is represented in various countries at exhibitions, conferences and recruitment fairs. Recently we have been to the Baltic States, Russia, Germany, China, Hong Kong, Dubai and now Nigeria.

We have found pupils from Nigeria to be wonderful students academically and in addition they really do get stuck into school life. They are respectful and helpful and really do emulate the key five behavioural aspects of the behavioural charter at Abbotsholme School.

Now why you ask is there a plateful of food above? Well a member of staff (whose food hell is goats cheese) set the catering department a challenge: to see if they could produce some dishes with the key ingredient being goats cheese that the member of staff would like and enjoy.

During the half term, Rachel from our catering department produced four taster dishes all with goats cheese in: goats cheese, red pepper and mushroom pasta, goats cheese tart, goats cheese and beetroot salad, and goats cheese cheesecake. So if goats cheese is your food heaven, this would be the meal for you! Anyway, needless to say the member of staff – who tentatively tucked into each dish – is now a lover of goats cheese after a big thumbs up to all the dishes! The trick is to use mild goats cheeses which worked a treat! The best was a goats cheese from Devon (UK Cheese hurrah!)  which had herbs and garlic in! To see the recipes – click here! As always our catering team triumphs!

Rachel was in during the half term to produce some marmalade for the Catering Team’s Market stall – one of a number of stalls that we are having on Open Day on March 12th in the Roseyard.

Back to Nigeria: this market is a relatively new market for recruitment of pupils into independent schools, but Nigerian families are looking for good schools in usually safe, rural locations for their children to enjoy and get the benefit of a British education. Pupils generally speak English as a first language, but a variety of Nigerian dialects are spoken throughout the country.

As regards goats, unfortunately, no goats have been spotted as yet in Abuja!

Finally, back to Bill and Ben, our two goats who enjoyed a quick splash of fame on Countryfile last Sunday, and on the repeat yesterday! Although Bill and Ben do not produce anything for the farm, they are much loved goats who are certainly good at ‘mowing grass!’

Next week – lambing………







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