Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Four seasons in one term.....

The last couple of weeks of weather reminded me of the chorus from a Crowded House song, 'Four seasons in one day'. It also aptly illustrates why so many ex-pats when asked what they miss most about England invariably say the seasons*.  We've now had snow showers, heavy rain, wonderful sunny afternoons and cloakroom areas that consequently resemble a teenager's bedroom.

Sadly in recent years, snow in a southern winter has become about as frequent as a balanced Brexit headline in the tabloid press.  In fact, one could be forgiven for thinking you'd fallen asleep and woken up in a world of psychological projection, what with Ofsted complaining about teacher workload, having singlehandedly been responsible for most of it, and Tangerine man suggesting that the best way to stop gun crime in schools was to have more guns! 

So yes, we had snow at last in the south.  Yippee.  Enough snow to build snowmen and, irony of ironies for a place with more 4x4s than a sheepdog trial, enough to grind the south-east to a predictable standstill for almost a week.  

We were even forced to close the school
for two days. This is always a decision taken with great reluctance as we fully understand the impact it has on parents.  It is about balancing genuine health & safety concerns and staff availability with the acknowledgement that if schools don't open, many parents can't get to work.  So, after two days and no real sign of further heavy snow we employed a late start and early finish for the last two days, a strategy that seemed to work well. 

That said, and however inconvenient it may be, snow is a truly magical childhood experience.  A childhood bereft of sledging, snowball fights, building snowmen and thawing out frozen fingers is like a childhood without a dog.....not really a proper childhood.  

For many of our children this may well have been the first year they experienced the thrill of waking up to a snow covered landscape. 

I always think of that scene from the well known children's book 'The Snowman' when on waking, the pyjama clad boy leaps from his bed to look out of his window, seeing the snowy carpet covering his garden and the fields outside....perfect.

So, hoping to establish a Wainscott school tradition for snowy days, we all went outside for the last hour to play in the snow.  Some children chose to build snowmen whilst the rest of them took on the staff in one almighty snowball fight....children against staff!  Talk about Custer's last stand, we were slaughtered and I ended up looking like a snowman.  All I needed was for someone to stick a carrot in my face!  When the parents arrived to collect their children we suddenly all had fresh prey and further fun ensued.  

We even witnessed the return of our beautiful purple crocuses in between the snow falls.  These were donated by The Rotary Club, a symbol of their success campaign to eradicate polio, and one we have supported as a school in the past.

In between our wonderfully variable weather, school life has proceeded, as busy and exciting as ever.  

As mentioned previously, a common feature of great schools is having a great curriculum to build the learning around.  As you will be aware we have put considerable effort into developing ours with this aim and our rich curriculum is reflected in our school environment.  We now have many schools coming to visit to see this first hand and to take away ideas that they can use to improve their own schools.  It is a real compliment to the staff here that our environment is seen so positively by professional colleagues elsewhere.  

One way that senior staff are able to ensure that this great practice continues to develop is through our learning walks around the school, identifying, praising and sharing best practice with all staff.  

To develop this further, we have recently introduced peer learning walks.  Every week a cross-section of teaching staff look at certain practice across the school, to discuss it as a group, chat with the staff concerned to discuss aspects, share and suggest ideas.  

This is one way we hope to identify and share great ideas and teaching approaches across the school and help staff at all levels understand what good practice looks like and what can be achieved with our children.  

We also try to ensure parents gain an insight into what their children are learning through our regular class assemblies.  We have had several of these so far this term and we hope you find them as informative as they are entertaining :)

On a personal level, I seem to have had the most wonderfully cultural few weeks .... but I think that's best left for my next blog.  


*A recent survey asked ex-pats what they missed about living in England.  The most commonly cited item was the seasons with the next most missed feature the NHS!

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Well that took you long enough .........

I really should start with an apology as it's taken me far too long to update this blog.  

Our wonderful Vicar, Sue, has very generously termed it my 'writer's block'....a view I will gracefully accept.

I'm currently typing to the sound of rainfall, so it must be a school holiday then!  Yinka, my less than faithful hound, is busy terrorising the cleaning staff here at school as she scampers from room to room, trying to cajole any unfortunate soul she meets to throw a tennis ball for her.  

So what has been happening on planet Wainscott you ask....well far to much to cover in one blog without generating a beast of War & Peace proportions!  

We recently had perhaps my favourite moment in the school year........when the T-Rex visits.

As you can probably imagine, it's not the sort of experience a primary aged child forgets in a hurry!

In fact, this term despite being quite short does sum up the school's approach to the curriculum quite well.  

It was no accident that during last summer's successful Ofsted visit, the inspectors rightly praised our curriculum and the impact it has on the children's learning.  Even in a potentially bleak month like January we still work hard to ensure that there are exciting first hand experiences to be had.

An undoubted highlight was the visit of the illustrator Korky Paul.  

Many of you will know of Korky for his wonderful illustrations of the Winnie the Witch stories.  Whilst a desired outcome of such visits is to encourage the children's love of books and all things reading, a byproduct is to make the children aware of the wide range of an author/illustrator's work.  We also hope to inspire some to follow suit and develop as writers.  Such was the children's enjoyment of Korky's visit that many a Wainscottian went hope with the ambition of becoming an illustrator established in their heart!

He was an utterly charming man, patient and funny and so generous with his time.

We also had the now annual trip to the O2 Arena where our school choir took part in the Young Voices charity concert.  It is always a long day but another spectacular event for the children lucky enough to attend.

We managed to persuade the Rev Sue to join us this year!
We have also been getting through our Class Assemblies.  These are an opportunity for parents to come in and hear first hand from the children about their learning topics and experiences.  We aim to cover every class during the course of the year and may in time increase their frequency.  

On a personal level I have managed a couple of adventures myself.  With my dog and daughter I visited a rather damp Rochester one weekend.....the highlight being the discovery of an excellent and dog friendly cafe on the High Street.

Image result for basquiat barbican
In addition this month I visited the BETT Show in London's Dockland.  This is an annual event highlighting IT innovations and practice and useful place to network with can also blag a few decent freebies if you are lucky!  
Image result for basquiat barbican
I also managed to squeeze in a visit to The Barbican to see an excellent exhibition of modern art by a guy called Basquiat, a contemporary of Andy Warhol.  

Right, well I shouldn't spoil you should I....time to sign off and I vow to return to my weekly blogging habits now the block has been lifted!

Hugh :)

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Weighing the pigs....

Many years ago when I worked as a Deputy in Stockwell, London, one of my colleagues was an utterly charming year 2 teacher called Adrian.  Despite being intelligent, witty, thoughtful and possessing a wonderfully cheerful disposition, all essential attributes for a teacher, I always found myself thinking Adrian seemed slightly out of place in that setting.  Looking back I was wrong......Adrian is exactly the type of mildly eccentric character that makes working in an inner city primary school so enjoyable.  I had many a cheery conversation with him as we passed in the corridor leading to the photocopier room.... often initiated by me asking what his day had in store and he'd reply...."weighing the pigs Hugh, weighing the pigs" as he rushed passed carefully balancing a pile of photocopied SATs papers!  He of course was not describing his Year Two children as pigs but passing judgement on the process he found himself embroiled in every year. Namely giving 6/7 year olds practice SATs papers to see what progress they had made.

Thankfully the approach of most schools has moved on since the turn of the century (you have no idea how wonderful it feels to be able to use that phrase in my own writing) although we do find ourselves deep into testing season again. Our Year Six children took their Key Stage Two SATs earlier last term and Year Two's assessment window has also now finished.  It will soon be time for the Year One phonics screening and EYFS end of stage assessments.  Whether or not you agree with the current levels of assessment primary aged children experience we can all agree that the better our children perform in such assessments, the better our school will be judged to be performing.  For that reason, this time of year is vital to the future success of the school and my mind often recalls the charismatic Adrian, frantically preparing himself for another day of testing.  Now is the time for nervous waiting.  The results will soon come back.  I know how hard staff have worked with the children to ensure that they are able to do themselves honest justice and so we count down the days until all is revealed.  The term ended with a fun staff gathering for prosecco and pizza.....a small gesture of gratitude for how incredibly hard they have again worked this term.


I would love to be able to say that my colleagues at the coal face have spent the last week relaxing in the glorious early summer sunshine but in truth I know this will not be the case for so many of them.  May Bank is perhaps the only holiday that most dedicated teachers don't actually look forward to.  It is a week spent either writing school reports, or worrying about writing them or feeling guilty for putting of writing them whilst you sound time with your loved ones.  I on the other hand have managed to have a fairly full week with my family and friends. 

Friday night I popped up to London to take a friend round the Tate Britain to see the Hockney exhibition before it closes.  I have seen it a couple of times and thoroughly enjoyed it both times.....but got more out of it the second time.  It's often the way as things can sink in and you seem to have the time too notice and appreciate things more.

Saturday brought the nervousness that is Cup Final day to our house.  Gone our those childhood days of getting up early to go round to your mates house to then watch every single TV minute until the cup was lifted... including the road to Wembley, Cup Final it's a Knockout and even breakfast with the wives.  However, much to my delight and utter astonishment my boys rose like salmon to the occasion and shattered the double dreams of Chelsea....savoured in the local with the girls of course!

 On the first Sunday of the holiday I spent a lovely afternoon enjoying the sunshine and dappled shade of Knole Park in Sevenoaks.  I first discovered this charming setting about three years ago and have gone several times.  The house itself would warrant the journey alone, but the true magic of the place is in it's setting, an extensive Deer Park and the fact that it is located just yards from a busy town centre.  It was one of those early summer days of hot sunshine punctuated by the occasional passing cloud that has typified this half-term.

On Monday I went to Welling to visit my oldest brother and our wider family.  It was a day for true celebration as four weeks ago he was on a life support machine and not expected to pull through following a heart attack and suspected brain damage.  On the day my twin and I should have been celebrating our birthdays we were in Kings College Hospital paying what we suspected were our last respects to our big brother.  His recovery has been remarkable and has had a rejuvenating effect on our family.  So yes, a splendid day.  So many happy faces, hugs and genuine affection mixed with visible relief.  He faces a long period of recovery and an uncertain future level of self-determination but at least he is on that journey. 

Tuesday started with a pop into school to catch up on finances with Mel our School Business Manager and then home for dog walks and a visit to the Bay.  We had planned a bbq but forgot the metal tray thingy with the burnt things in had to settle for a stroll along the tide and a fish & chips supper.

Wednesday I managed to dodge the showers and catch up with an old friend for a round of golf.  Lovely company and the old swing didn't let me down too badly.  Actually I was rather pleased with my performance in a typical non-competitive, non-bragging male way :)

Thursday we visited Hever Castle on another hot day.  We have made a conscious decision this holiday to try to take Yinka with us everywhere....except for on the golf course......naturellement.  She was really well behaved and definitely added to the ambiance in that chewing, lead pulling, face licking way that dogs do!  

Friday was again busy....returning to Welling to do some gardening for my brother on his allotment in the sun.  It ended with a very giggly BBQ on the Bay at dusk with Chloe, her bestie and our occasionally faithful hound.....great fun. 

Saturday started with the usual run throughout the fields with the hairy alligator....some lovely wild flowers on view.....

I then spent the day with a friend who showed me an amazing field of if plucked from Provence...and we had a lovely afternoon and evening chatting and laughing. 

I drove home to the horrors of London Bridge on the radio and woke this morning to the details.  It's a desperately sad time for society but London, just like Manchester and other great european cities before it, has risen to the challenge, dusted itself down, vowed to not be bowed and carried on being the wonderful, exciting, diverse and tolerant place we all love.  I couldn't imagine letting such acts change my life for one moment.  The last few weeks have only reaffirmed my resolve to enjoy life, celebrate life and as the saying goes......learn to dance in the rain.  

Today itself has been a return to dog walks and domestic duties....I hope you have all enjoyed your week as much as I have.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

A sad goodbye....

I've felt like the habitual chancer so far this winter; displaying the deftness of a pickpocket at a scuba club in having avoided a cold of any description.  I've watched colleague after colleague succumb to her seasonal charm and smiled as she failed to work her inevitable magic....and then I fell.  I first noticed something awry at the O2 on Wednesday...confused by my inability to work out why I had a headache, I put it down to the long day.  As is the way with all teacher ailments she held back her venom until Friday afternoon and then hit me with the all subtlety of a wheel clamp.  

Consequently it's been a slow weekend.  Beyond domestic duties and a couple of freezing but fun dog walks yesterday, I've stayed close to the fire, the kettle and paracetamol.  It's allowed me time to reflect on some memorable events...some inspiring and some truly sad. 

Towards the end of last week a surge of excitement and anticipation swept through the school as many of us secretly wished for a heavy snowfall and the chance to play in a magical white kingdom.  The snow came but it wasn't heavy and so instead we endured a few of cold days of anticlimax.  I haven't been able to build a proper snowman for the last three/four winters.....and my daughter even brought over her snow boots and clothing hoping to get snowed in. 

A wintery evening didn't exactly 'train on' to use horse racing parlance....

Well it's certainly been cold enough these last few days if there is any moisture in the atmosphere....but somehow I fear the snow doesn't plan to visit.

This week started with Year 5 visiting the Natural History Museum in London as part of their dinosaurs topic.  It's a wonderful venue for a school trip, bursting with exciting displays and a day that will stay in a child's school memory bang for eternity.  How could you not help but be moved by this of my favourite London views!

We also had our beehive arrive.  The hive has a camera fitted inside so that we can all watch the bees as they go about their busy lives, making honey and pollinating plants.  The bees themselves will arrive in a few weeks once Wainscott has warmed up.  We will also have the bird box camera on again, which too has a live camera link into the school.  

School itself was a mixture of meetings and our latest cycle of learning audits.  This is when the school's leadership team visit the different teachers to see how well the teaching and learning is developing.  

Last week we visited a couple of Year 3 and Year 1 classes.

And the highlight.....well that was the Young Voices Concert at the O2 on Wednesday.  The choir have worked so hard with Miss Dillon to prepare for the event and their efforts paid off.  They all experienced something very special....

How many of us can say we have sung at the 02, in a choir that was 7,500 strong? 

Well they all can!  They sang every song with gusto, showed incredible stamina over such a long and demanding day/evening, behaved wonderfully and still showed up for school on Thursday.  

Undoubtably the saddest moment was our assembly on Friday.   As many of you may have read in this week's newsletter, the school has lost a well loved friend with the passing of Mr Tony Cox, one of our volunteer readers.  Mr Tony, as many of the children affectionately called him, came in every week to hear children read.  An utterly delightful, polite and caring man.  He epitomised the phrase 'manners maketh man' and he quickly became part of the Wainscott family.  Always friendly, always there for the children; despite his worsening condition that meant he struggled to even walk into school from the car park.  We intend for representatives from the school to attend his funeral and we will also be creating a lasting memorial to Tony in the school and will cherish his memory. Our thoughts, blessings and love go to his family at this sad time.  God bless you Tony and thank you for gracing our lives with your kindness and charm.  

Sunday, January 8, 2017

My family Christmas...

So a brief resume of my own festive experience then....

Before Christmas I went up to Nottinghamshire, where my twin brother lives to catch up with him and his family.  

We visited Newark where I saw a great idea in a church.... charity Christmas trees....perhaps something for us to consider next year?

We had great fun over the weekend but chose to leave Yinka with a delightfully naive colleague and her family.  I can only imagine the carnage she doubt adding to their woe as one child went down with the sickness bug that seemed to sweep through certain classes.  I suspect that they won't offer again.

The village where we live, has a lovely tradition at Christmas of every house putting a tree up outside, on their street facing wall.  It creates a lovely festive atmosphere and sight as you walk or drive through it.

I had a wonderfully relaxing, family Christmas.   

Early morning runs with Yinka through the fields, 

family filled days, 

The daily struggle to find things to eat....

and evening walks through the orchards.  

We spent Christmas day round at my parents 

Yinka even let wore a Christmas jumper....

and we all went for the obligatory Boxing day walk on the Bay. 

After Christmas we popped up to London so Chloe could catch the sales and I could visit an art exhibition at the Royal Academy.  We even had time for lunch with some dinosaurs in Piccadilly. 

We visited Carnaby Street....Chloe loved the place and I told her stories of my frequent visits there as teenager.

And for New Year's Eve we visited old friends in London and had an enjoyable evening of chatting, great hospitality and karaoke!

Four seasons in one term.....

The last couple of weeks of weather reminded me of the chorus from a Crowded House song, 'Four seasons in one day'. It also aptly il...