Oh Snow!

Posted: 3rd February, 2016. Topics:

Snow has come to the UK at last.

Although we did not get much snow in Staffordshire (the Peak District certainly did!), I thought I would share some images of previous years snow scenes with you this week!

As the Dog that Blogs, I am never happier than if I am bounding through snowy fields in the countryside!

Enjoy this weeks images…..

…… more on the countryside next week.

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100 days to go…

Posted: 26th January, 2016. Topics:

….and in 140 days it will all be over for Year 11′s and they can stop revising and working hard to pass exams and enjoy the summer.

Last week, Abbotsholme School held a mock GCSE results event following the mock GCSE exams that our Year 11 pupils have been taking. We invited parents along to the event too, as if it was the real deal.

We put all their results in a transparent pack with information included on whether they could continue on to do A Levels and the course they wanted with the current results they had achieved. We ensured that they were all in the ‘event’ room to hear how important these results were – although not as important as those in August – from our Director of Curriculum, who mentioned that there was now 100 days for pupils to work hard to change these results (if necessary). He also mentioned that an OA who was 40 rang up to get his exact GCSE results  for a job he was applying for which shows that these results are still important in the job market 25 years on!

There was concern that this event would put pressure on our pupils, that they already had a lot of pressure put on them (and that which they put on themselves) anyway without adding further.

I was very proud of our Year 11 pupils on Friday. They listened carefully to what was said to them, and were respectful, they had humility when listening to the speech from the Director of Curriculum, and took their results with courage, and they were honest with themselves about where (in relevant cases) they fell short of the mark.

This week our Year 11s have shown our fifth behavioural tenet: integrity, in bucket fulls! The behaviour they have shown this week have been incredible. They have taken the results and come back to school with renewed purpose, asking teachers where they have fallen short, and what they can do in the next 100 days to push their grades up one or to levels.

Both the School and some parents were concerned that the mock results event would demotivate and over-stress pupils, putting added pressure on them which they did not need.

The opposite has happened: the event has made them realise that now is the time to put the effort in and ask for help. It is like watching caterpillars become butterflies. Incredible!

100 days to go Year 11, …. but only 140 and then you can relax. Out of a lifetime – this is not much, especially when these exams will matter throughout your lifetime.


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Great customer service means that employees should come first…

Posted: 19th January, 2016. Topics:

Following on from my customer service blog last week, and never one to just stop researching about excellent customer service, the following quote popped up on my email early this week:

… and I was intrigued by this because I have always believed that in every job I have ever done in retail, charities and schools, if you look after the customers, the business/organisation thrives and employees benefit, and thus the customer benefits etc. Obviously, employees are an important part of the business when growing, but benefits are better if an organisations is thriving.

This made me think that Independent Schools should really have the best customer service and customers should be very engaged with the school they have chosen. Why is this? Staff at Independent Schools should be the happiest people in their jobs because staff generally receive higher salaries than those of their maintained school counterparts, as well as receiving a huge variety of additional benefits including free school meals, free refreshments, free car-parking for many schools, the ability to enjoy many national and international trips (my personal favourite has been Scottish Winter Mountaineering), and free accommodation for many staff.

For academic staff, there are long holidays that generally work around the school terms so in many cases for those that have children, child care is not necessary.

Most importantly for many, the staff discount on independent education can be between 25-66% off the fees depending on what school you go to which makes school fees affordable, and additionally allows parents to see and make contact with their children during the  working day – how many organisations can say they facilitate that?

At Abbotsholme, additionally, there are staff committees for staff to talk about working conditions, academic issues, pastoral issues and teaching and learning queries and staff are empowered to come up with ideas to support each; there is cake Wednesday – my personal favourite – when the wonderful catering staff make all staff a sweet treat to celebrate the middle of the working week, and we have just introduced breakfast for all staff on inset days to give them chance to catch up following the school holidays.

However, no organisation is perfect and there is always lots more than can be done!

But going back to my original thought about customers/clients being the boss, versus staff being the most important, it all comes down to the chicken and egg theory looking at the quote above: did the customer come first (and is thus the most important), or did the employee? If there are no customers, there can be no employees (people to teach, clean the school, feed the pupils, look after the school and staff), but if (in the independent sector world) there are no employees, then we cannot look after the customer. Which came first? Answers on a postcard….. or twitter/facebook!

I am going to end this blog with a few quotes from Mr Branson that I think are worth mentioning:

‘If someone offers you an amazing opportunity, but you are not sure you can do it….. say yes, then learn how to do it later.” (which fits in with last weeks blog about saying yes to the customer and working out how to do what you have said yes to after; and

‘The best advice I could ever give anyone is to spend your time working on whatever you are passionate about in life.’

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There is only one boss: the customer!

Posted: 12th January, 2016. Topics:

As many Independent Schools go back this week, and parents pay for the Spring Term’s fees which is anything from around £2500 to £12,000 for 10-11 weeks of education, the above quote which made its way to our Headmasters facebook from a friend seemed very timely.

Independent Schools have operated in the past as educators first and foremost with parents just being parents. This is not so in the twenty first century, with fees having risen in the last 10-15 years faster than salaries, parents are not just parents anymore; they are buyers. And Schools now have to be sellers, as well as educators.

Just like with any product, a customer can stop buying / leave a School for two reasons, firstly because the product is not as they expected it to be, and secondly because the customer service is not great.

If Independent Schools are to continue and flourish, they need to get on board with the mantra that the ‘Customer is King’ or as employees in a recent documentary in a well known hotel in India said “Guest is God”. In fact if you watch any programme dedicated to luxury products (which a lot of people would consider independent education as), then you will know that making the customer feel the most important person in the world and going that extra mile for each and every customer is the key to ensuring customer loyalty which is the hardest thing to achieve in the twenty first century which choice readily available, and even harder than customer delight which is rare in itself!

Making the customer feel number one – by listening to them and meeting their needs is not just for the academic staff as they build relationships with parents through the education of the pupils, but the catering (amazing food), cleaning (sparkly school), maintenance (well kept buildings and grounds) and and administration staff (relationships and dealings with parents, especially financial matters). The biggest single reason a business loses  customers is the indifference of one employee, and that could be anybody in any part of the school.

So Abbotsholme should – as every School should – embrace excellent customer service. Mrs Barnwell in the marketing office was given her perfect present by a colleague – an actual yes button – because she believes that you should always say yes to a customer (unless its immoral or illegal) and then work out how to meet that request, rather than the other way around. This was from the USA which I am sure will not surprise readers because as we know, the US really do know how to do customer service.

Customers do not want to hear about problems, why something was not done and any excuses – which makes things worse! – they just want solutions.

If Independent Schools want to survive they must therefore do the following: say yes to customers, be solution orientated, remember Customer is King, and listen to parents / customers………after all – they are the boss!


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A New Year’s Resolution for 2016

Posted: 4th January, 2016. Topics:

‘Tis the season…… to make resolutions………agh agh agh agh agghhhhh…..agh aghh aghh aghhhhhhhhhhh!

So you have polished off the turkey in various guises including having the infamous curry, shouted at the kids for the umpteenth time for playing their new CD/album of One Direction, Little Mix or Taylor Swift too loud whether on the CD player, IPOD or phone and in some cases not doing enough revision, braved the shops for the post Christmas sales and finally finished all the food – albeit a large wedge of Cranberry Wensleydale cheese – that still lurks in the back of the fridge.

You are back to work and the new school term starts next week. You have made your resolutions including the usual weight loss one that comes post Christmas, join a gym, the other usual reduce the number of alcohol units per week (starting with a dry January), and then a variety of others including DIY jobs, clearing out the loft, learning a new craft, spending time with family and friends, save more money and get that extension / house project done.

But what of the kids? What resolutions do you think they will be making? Resolve to work harder, or to get involved in school events, trips and activities more? Reduce their sugar intake, and fizzy drinks, reduce their time playing computer games, or tidy their bedrooms?

It is funny to think we expect them to probably do all these anyway, as we should be doing our resolutions!!!! And how often do we keep ours going throughout the year and thus as adults seen to be setting an example? Probably not much past March! We should therefore not be so cross when our children do not keep or do theirs!

So rather than come up with some, I have come up with two – inspired by a recent film I watched – that we can all do in 2016, well one really since if you are part of the Abbotsholme community then the first one you live and breathe all the time and that is: have courage. So what is the other I hear you ask? The answer is – be kind.

Lets make 2016 a year where we all decide to ‘have courage and be kind’. Happy New Year!

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Boxing Day holiday for Hirch!

Posted: 28th December, 2015. Topics:

Hirch is taking a break from blogging this week after having too many Christmas delights and dog biscuits during the weekend’s Christmas celebrations, and his full tummy has got in the way of being able to reach the keyboard to blog!

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One Abbotsholme Christmas wish for the world for 2016!

Posted: 21st December, 2015. Topics:

During this festive season, as the dog that blogs, I see a lot of talk about presents, food, chocolate, amazing holidays to far off places over the Christmas holidays, and see that our pupils, parents, staff and  and their families are very blessed.

Therefore, I took the opportunity to ask our Prep School children (as they were having their Christmas jumper pictures taken) their one wish for the world this Christmas and here is what they said:

Water for all

A Perfect Christmas

Food for everyone in the world

Clothes for every person

Mummy never stops loving us (and other mummies never stop loving their children)

Necklace for everyone in the world

Everyone has everything they need

The chance to ride a reindeer

Wonderful holidays

All our amazing forces people stationed around the world are kept safe

Everyone has the chance to spend time with their family

Stop the wars so everyone is safe

Friends for everyone

Giving gifts to everyone to make everyone smile

Everyone gets one present

Fun for the world and no-one being left out

A normal life for everyone with food, shelter, warmth and water

A happy life

Everyone to have a home at Christmas

Families don’t fight

Let every family have a present and some food

Great, super, massive fun time during the holidays

No one is poorly

Have a nice daily dinner

And one very wonderful and clever pupil add the following wish, and for those of you who have watched ‘Miss Congeniality’ (a movie that is sure to be on over the Christmas period) you will know what that all important wish is and what it (as Sandra Bullock says) is mostly all about…. world peace!

Happy Christmas…. (four sleeps to go!)


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What is the meaning of Christmas?

Posted: 14th December, 2015. Topics:

A twenty-first century Christmas is very different to the Christmas that was had 2015 years ago. In fact, as you gaze down high streets across the land in the twilight taking in all the sparkling lights, the melee and bustle of people and carols and music blaring from brightly light shops, you wonder how we got from the quiet scene in a stable to today.

Whatever  a person thinks about Christmas, (and even Google’s top ranked response to the question ‘what is the meaning of Christmas’ states that it is the annual Christian festival celebrating Christ’s birth, held on 25 December in the Western Church), it does come down to a stable scene all those many years ago of a man and wife sharing the birth of their new born son, and love, with the world.  We know that a certain supermarket’s key slogan this Christmas following on from a highly successful advert last year in the trenches centered around sharing is again that of sharing this Christmas. As the dog that blogs, I wondered whether this idea still exists today and thought I would ask a random sample of people that make up Abbotsholme’s community including pupils (of all ages) and staff, what Christmas means to them, and here is what was said:

Christmas means, “Food, singing, spending time with your family, giving, sales and discounts, fun, decorating the tree, making me happy, family, presents, great food, happy times, being fat, the smell, stockings, friends, sparkly lights, Father Christmas, Jesus, Christmas baking, and tracking Santa on NORAD.”

And some of my favourites include, “New shoes, I love my mummy, Christmas means everything, family, my brother starting to walk, people’s spirit, Christmas carols, friends, and going out for a walk in the hills.”

The icing on the cake quote goes to Sam in the Sixth Form (who is in the picture above  trying out sledging after seeing his first ever  snowfall) who said, “Christmas means giving hope to the poor.”

So many pupils and staff quoted ‘family’, ‘spending time with family’, ‘being together as a family at Christmas’ and ‘sharing time with the family’ that I definitely know things have not changed in the 2015 years since that most famous stable scene initiated this festive period. Because at the heart of the stable was family, sharing a special time together in happiness and love.

I will end this blog in the words of Beth in the Prep School who said, “Christmas is all about happiness and love.”

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12 revision tips (not days!) of Christmas

Posted: 8th December, 2015. Topics:

So you find yourself sitting at the kitchen table in the middle of the  first week of the Christmas holidays at elevenses having a well earned cup of coffee and a white chocolate and cranberry cookie (click here for the recipe), in the midst of deciding whether to  make the cranberry sauce or stuffing. The excitement of Christmas is building as your child is now on holiday and you are able to spend some quality time with them everyday which is an exciting prospect rather than trying to communicate over bowls of cereal and only getting the usual grunt in the morning or if your child boards receiving a quick phone call from then only for them to ask whether you can send that specific Joules or Jack Wills top to school for mufti day.

Your Year 11 child is going through one of the most important years in their academic life – and scary since this is the first time they will have done  public exams. They will have spent the longest term cramming lots of work in, starting mock exams and getting involved in a variety of extra curricular activities, and although you understand that even though it is day four or five of the Christmas holidays, you are still thinking to yourself as you finish that cookie and reach for another that your child still being in bed sleeping at this time of the day is not going to get them the grades they need in the Summer.

How do you broach this subject? How much revision should they be doing on average in a day? Are there any good revision tips out there that can help? Yes there are, and your can read them all here:

1 – Have they made a revision plan? Fail to plan, plan to fail is the old adage, and with the suggestion that pupils should be revising 30 minutes per day per subject then a plan would certainly help to ensure this is achievable. They could start by writing some notes on each subject as crib sheets to use later, which on average takes about five to six hours per subject.

2 – Does the revision plan include time each day to do the things your child likes to do? The revision plan should not be a nine hour marathon. Each day should also be given over to horse riding, shopping, surfing (the internet unless your child is brave enough to actually surf in the winter!), playing games, watching films, and spending time with their friends. These activities are just as important as revision, because it is after all the holidays!

3 – Are there topics or subjects that most concern them that you could support them with? This can sometimes be a barrier to revision – or if we admit it – our work too. When one thing is hampering us, it can affect everything. Try and talk with your child if you feel this is the case, and book an appointment to see the teacher straight away who may be able to help with the blockage in January rather than leaving it until its too late, and revision time and the exams have been and gone.

4 – Find a comfortable place to revise: This is very important, whether at a desk, sitting on their bed, or even lying on the floor; everyone is different, and everyone has their preferred place to be able to get comfy and take all the information in.

5 – Make sure there are no distractions: turn mobile phones and other devices off. But do remember some people can revise with music on so be sensitive to different needs and also remember your children are all different. What works for one may not work for the other, and vice versa.

6 – Stick to the plan from day one: encourage your child to stick to the plan, because if not, the work load gets bigger and the plan will fail and another plan will have to be created, and although the plan is an important part of the process, it guides the learning, and creating plan after plan does not get the learning done!

7 – Breaks are important: the brain can work effectively for up to 30 -40 minutes. Ensure that your child has enough breaks during their revision sessions to optimise their learning ability.

8 – Mix it up: although for some people having a set plan of subjects each day will work, mixing it up each day can enhance learning, just as different exercises works different muscles!

9 – Nagging does not help, but support does! Enough said!

10 – Do some exercise: make sure that your child gets out of the revision zone (mentally and physically) by walking the dog, feeding the chickens, mucking out the horses – all doubly useful since the chores are done at the same time!

11 – Don’t overdo it: there is no point doing nine hours of revision per day; your child will burn out and not enjoy Christmas. Quality, not quantity.

12 – If you read through something you remember it for a day; if you read through the same text the next day, you remember it for a week, and if you read it again seven days later you will remember it for a month. The initial periods of revision are the hardest and then it does get easier.

Finally, remember what it was like when you were revising and what it was like to go through GCSEs – the first important exam and also many parents do not realise the first big fail for any child, followed by driving test and then A Levels  in quick succession. Revision definitely requires parents to have a good memory, patience and above all the skills to keep white chocolate and cranberry cookies or other goodies coming to ensure those energy levels remain up for the revision sessions!

Images: snowy scenes, and some Year 11s revising in the sun last year!


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Top five areas parents want to see in an Independent School

Posted: 30th November, 2015. Topics:

Choosing the right education for a child is one of the hardest things a parent has to face if they are fortunate enough to be able to go down the independent education route.

There are over 2500 independent schools in the UK offering a variety of opportunities and educational pathways, so who do you choose. We asked parents what are the key criteria for parents choosing a school for their child and here are the top five:

1 – Quality of teaching – parents expect a very high level of teaching quality when they are paying for an education and this comes first. For many, this is still the reason parents buy into independent education. Good quality teaching ensures pupils get the best results they can to go on and be successful after school.

2 – Class sizes – parents buy secondly into small class sizes. Class sizes in the maintained sector can be up to 40 and how children are expected to learn, ask individual questions to facilitate their learning is beyond comprehension. For quiet pupils, they will get lost in the large group and only the loudest and strongest will survive. An education is not supposed to be a lesson in Darwinism.

3 – Academic Achievement – parents are still swayed by league tables when it comes to education, although more and more schools are deliberately deciding not to be included in these because they feel that an education is more than academic learning and that extra curricular opportunities are just as important. Additionally, many schools are not included because they are too small and thus some good schools are missed by parents.

4 – Family ties and friendships – for many families, word of mouth, pupil friendships, siblings at a school and family ties are still an important part of the choosing process. Pupils have more of a say in the decision now and choose to go or stay with their friends. Nowadays, with the market split between first time buyers and second, third and more generation independent school buyers, family ties are less important compared to the past and word of mouth – including mumsnet – are important aspects of the decision making.

5 – Location: it seems for many location is an important aspect in choosing a school. For many, boarding is not financially suitable, and many do not want  their children to board, so finding the right school in a certain radius is important for them.

Other key areas include cost of fees, facilities, and extra curricular opportunities available.

Whatever is key to you when choosing a school, an independent education gives families a wide choice, and therefore ultimately a bespoke education for their child which is priceless. Long may it continue!


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