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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Countryfile at Abbotsholme: Part 3 of 3 – Filming, and post filming

Posted: 22nd February, 2016. Topics:

I am sure you will have watched Countryfile on TV last night. Abbotsholme was on for 12 minutes of film even though they cut the programme down by 25% from an hour to 45 minutes, which we were clueless as to know why with the viewing figures that Countryfile has been achieving in its recent series.

Anyway, how proud of Abbotsholme, and our pupils are you!? Well we are so proud of every single one of them – we think they were just amazing.

So you have watched the segment; now find out below what the days filming was like and the behind the scenes secrets!


So the day had arrived. Nine hours to go to keep it as low key as possible, and then we would be allowed to tell the world!

We had the fire on in Reception in anticipation of the arrival of Matt Baker and the crew; and they arrived – just before the car park started to get to busy at drop-off time. They signed in then went around to the farm with minimal interest from parents, staff and pupils, so it was a great start to the low key day! We put barriers up around the farm so that no-one could come into the farm area which was a real help.

Filming began – following bacon butties for breakfast – with Rachel Hames, and Matt Baker talking about lambing preparation. Prep school pupils from Year 3 and 4 were also on site during this, and they were so well behaved whilst filming happened. They were next to be celebrities and answer questions from Matt Baker as they helped to feed our pygmy goats. Matt was brilliant with one Prep pupil – who will remain nameless – who had a lot of energy during the filming and to keep him busy, Matt suggested that he run to the tree on the horizon and the pupil in question actually started to run out of the film and up the hill; everyone found it hilarious – before a Sixth Form pupil went to make sure he was ok and get him back!

We had a further eventful morning with burning bacon, and jumping pregnant ewes as the team filmed Greg King talking about his experiences on the farm and the pupils building lamb hurdles in preparation for lambing. This was then followed by Adam and Alice learning how to inject sheep supervised by local vet, Rob, from Glenthorne Vets. The pupil’s had designed the pen that had been delivered that week by IAE, and it worked perfectly letting the sheep in one by one to be vaccinated.

It was a long morning and grateful thanks must go to Sixth Formers, Frannie and Barney (both of whom want to go into media and journalism), who were runners for the day and kept everyone fueled up with tea, coffee and cake as well as helping lug equipment!

The headmaster was up next in the history feature and filming happened on the hill by the farm and then at Reddie’s Grave above Toboggan Hill. Before lunch the final set of the morning was at the front of the school – which was difficult with having to keep pupils away as we filmed, and stopping people coming out of the front door.

It had been a long cold morning, so we were all – pupils, crew and Abbotsholme staff – ready for Rachel and her awesome catering. Lunch was set for 1.30pm to ensure that the dining room was clear from pupils and staff. Matt did walk past a few Year 8 girls on their way to registration and audible screams were heard!

The lunch choice included lamb from the farm which was fab and most people tucked into that with the usual Friday chips! It was so delicious! We were joined by a BBC publicity member of staff – Gareth – to look after a visiting journalist from the Mail on Sunday doing a piece on the rapid rise and popularity of Countryfile (which if you have not seen you can read here and Abbotsholme is mentioned!)

Just after lunch, Frannie, one of the Sixth Form runners, interviewed Matt Baker. We were keen beforehand to ask him a set of questions, but were told it might not happen. Anyway, we were given the go-ahead and Frannie was able to do her first interview of a celebrity. The interview will be published soon.

The afternoon filming centred around Tara and Ben and tractor driving skills, and both did very well even though they have not had much practise with this skill. Miss Liddle also centred in some filming about tractor driving as the Head of Rural Estate Education.

At this point Ellie Harrison arrived and certainly caused a ripple of interest from every male present. One boy who shall remain nameless – when I asked what he thought of Ellie – said, “She is so fit!”.

Ellie was filmed driving the tractor and doing the goodbye scenes with Matt on our bales … and that was it, filming was over. Goodbyes were had, pictures were taken and Mr Fairclough got his picture with Ellie Harrison which made his week I think!!

The marketing team who had been present all day and spent days keeping everything hush hush, rushed back to the office following all the departures to ‘press the button’ on press releases, tweets, facebook stories, videos, and pinterest images. Low key was over finally, and we could tell the world – and we have been ever since!

The crew we worked with were just fantastic. Special thanks must go to Jo, Jess, Katy and Rachel who were brilliant, and really kept us in the loop about everything.

The last paragraph of part three of the Countryfile blog must be dedicated to our Sixth Form agriculture pupils – Rachel, Greg, Adam, Alice, Ben and Tara – who did Abbotsholme proud. They were brilliant on the day, they understood how important it was to keep the news quiet (and kept their mobile phones from the farm area and focused on the filming which was awesome considering we only had a day to shoot all the various scenes),  they wore what they were asked to wear, and behaved in a such a responsible and supportive manner that belied their age. All I can say is that we are very lucky with our pupils, with all of our pupils; they are just amazing!

Abbotsholme featured for roughly 12 minutes, across two films. The first included the history interview with Headmaster followed by the farm and joining the Sixth Form pupils sorting out the shed which included an interview with one of the Heads of School Gregory King. During this shots of the Prep School pupils were included and then the film moved to Alice and Adam doing the injections with the vet.

The second film was about the tractor training which included some shots of Ben driving, then Tara and then Ellie. A brief chat with Christina was included too about what the pupils were learning regarding the tractors.

Countryfile also used a number of archive images to show that the school has been at the forefront of farming education since the beginning.



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Countryfile at Abbotsholme: Part 2 of 3 – The week leading up to filming!

Posted: 15th February, 2016. Topics:

Following Countryfile saying yes for Abbotsholme to feature on the series and once we had got over the delight of this actually happening… for real …… the preparation work started.

Countryfile wanted a mix of pupils (both of age and gender to represent the School). Sixth Form agriculture pupils were key to this, and three boys and three girls were chosen at random (two of which came from Year 12 to feature in the injection filming because Year 12 Agriculture pupils had not done this.) There were four key scenes that each Sixth Form  pupil would be involved in to ensure that every one was used, and in boy / girl teams too.

Of course our Prep pupils had to feature, and we chose pupils in Year 3 who would be on an estate lesson on Friday afternoon. There were not enough in Year 3 to make up eight (four boys and four girls), so we extended it to Year 4 too. Countryfile wanted Prep pupils to be filmed feeding goats or chickens.

We made the decision to only tell those people involved because the BBC asked us to keep the news that they would be filming very low key until after they had gone. Sixth Form pupils were interviewed to complete biographies for the day’s filming as a background for Matt Baker and the team. All pupils had to have consent forms signed which was the hardest bit, so we asked Prep parents of pupils chosen not  to tell their children to try and keep it as low key as possible and not to get them over excited for the filming. Sixth form pupils involved were told that this had to be kept under wraps and not to talk to anyone – or add it to any social media platform – apart from those involved. We explained we did not want thousands of people turning up to see Matt Baker on the day, as well as interrupt a packed filming schedule! (Mrs Barnwell was checking the website socialmention every hour of every day to ensure that the news had not escaped…. I don’t think she breathed, ate or slept properly for a week!)

On the farm, Miss Liddle and the Sixth Form pupils spent hours tidying up, and cleaning the farm and animals. It looked incredible when we went round on Thursday morning checking everything. We were also delighted by agricultural, equestrian and  fencing equipment company IAE for their support of the sheep racing segment, by providing a brand new pen which will feature in the episode too. Pupils designed this racing pen to certain specifications to support their agriculture course, and IAE helped to produce it in time for the filming.

Rachel Lancett and her catering team were especially helpful in changing the menus for that day so that lunch dishes would include meat from the farm, and also helping us with having a late lunch due to the filming schedule. They also helped to ensure that the farm bungalow was the perfect base for bacon butties, pastries, coffee, tea and cakes to keep the crew and pupils fueled up throughout the days filming. Mark Lomas and his maintenance team were on hand to ensure that barriers were put up to restrict access to the key access points to the farm and bungalow to anyone other than those involved with the filming,and also were on hand to help with any movement of heavy items on the farm for filming.

Countryfile also wanted to do a segment on the history of the school with the Headmaster, so Marketing spent a lovely few hours in our archives looking through all our old images – especially farming images – and scanning them for the filming. Our archives are amazing, and we plan to put something together for our open day on Saturday March 12th in the Library.

The day before filming, crew members did a final reccy of the school including walking up to Reddie’s grave, and a check on some more of our archived images for the filming before confirming everything was set for the day! So the scene was set…..

Next week find out all about the filming on the day, how well the pupils sheep pen worked, and how fantastic Matt was with our Prep pupils during their filming stint.  Don’t forget to watch the show on BBC1 on Sunday 21st February at 7.15pm to see Abbotsholme School  and our amazing pupils.


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Countryfile at Abbotsholme: Part 1 of 3 – The beginning of the story!

Posted: 8th February, 2016. Topics:

Abbotsholme was delighted to welcome Countryfile to the School on Friday last week for a days filming to feature in the current series on TV. The filming done last week is due to be aired on Sunday 21st February at 7.00pm.

As I mentioned in my blog called ‘Oh Snow’ last week, I would be talking about countryside matters in this weeks blog.

When Countryfile initially contacted the School during the middle of January to find out more about the School – following regular emails sent to their editorial people over the last few years – to see if we were a good story for filming, Mrs Barnwell told me it had been her dream since arriving at Abbotsholme for Countryfile to come and film at Abbotsholme.

We all knew that Abbotsholme was a perfect place for filming: farm on site since the beginning (1889) and before, a new revolutionary approach to education encompassing indoor and outdoor learning, a new type of uniform, and pupils learning about field to fork farming: a living library as Mr Fairclough always says.

When Countryfile representatives came to reccy the School, we knew we had to pull out all the stops to impress. Not just content with getting all the information, images and data to them before the visit, we had to ensure – just as we do with all visitors (and especially prospective families) – that the first impressions really did wow. As always, marketing and customer service did play a very big part in this bit!

We ensured they had their names on the visitors car parking space signs and on the chalkboard in the lobby. We had homemade cake (from our amazing catering team) ready, and we had Sixth Form agri pupils, Mr Fairclough and Miss Liddle free to talk with the crew on the farm.

The crew arrived on Wednesday 27th January in the morning, and loved their names on the signs, and the excited and enthusiastic welcome they received; (who does not like a bit of excitement and enthusiasm on arrival somewhere new!) They even told us when they arrived that they felt they had to film here because of loving seeing their names on the car park signs and chalkboard (one of them even took a picture of it!)

They reccied the farm, spoke with the pupils, enjoyed the cake and spent time looking at the albums of amazing images dating right back to 1889. And that was it.

Every question they asked, we replied with a yes. We told them nothing was impossible, and we would do everything we could to make what they needed a reality. As you may know, the marketing team mantra is to say yes to every question, and work out how to do it after. People do not like to hear the word no straight away, they like to know there is a possibility that a person will look into something before realising that it can or cannot be done. Glass half full approach!

The next day – Thursday 28th January – was an anxious wait, and because we did not want to get our hopes up too much, we tried to keep calm, but it was hard! At 4.00pm, we could not bare the wait any longer, so we rang to find out…… that it was a yes!

Now the real work would begin……..

Come back next week for part 2 of our Countryfile story which includes the week leading up to filming, the amazing old farm images we found in our archive for Countryfile, having to keep the news as low key and as quiet as possible so as not to let the story out to anyone or any media before filming, and how we did this with over 300 pupils and 130 staff!

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